Summer squash-That delicate sweet abundance!

Summer squash –A blessing or abundance curse?

During spring vegetable planting, you thought one hill of summer squash will simply not be enough so you planted several hills. With the recent abundance of rain and hot weather, there is a bumper crop of summer squash. Now what?

Summer squash is the general term used for the squash varieties of Cocozelle, Crookneck, Pattypan, Straightneck, white scallop, and Zucchini. Summer squash differs from the fall and winter types of squash because it is harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures. Summer squash grows on bush-type plants that do not run all over the garden like fall and winter squash and pumpkin.

Since summer squash is an edible gourd, it should be harvested when it is tender and immature about 6 to 8 inches in length. Pattypan and scallopini squash should be harvested when they measure about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Anything over the size of 12 inches is too hard and fibrous for use. Recycle these monsters to the compost pile.

The skin of the summer squash is very thin and easily damaged. Handle with care. Place the unwashed summer squash in plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. The storage life of the summer squash is two to three days.

Squash blossoms are edible flowers, raw or cooked. Harvest only the big male flowers. The male flowers differ from the female flowers by the stem being thin and trim.

When it comes to nutritional value, summer squash is considerably lower than winter squash in value. For one cup of raw sliced zucchini there are 16 calories; 1.31 grams of protein; 3.27 grams of carbohydrates; and 1.36 grams of dietary fiber.

Summer squash can be boiled, fried, grilled, sautéed, or used in stir fry recipes. Summer squash mixes well with onions, okra, and tomatoes in vegetable medleys. Cumin seeds, dill, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, and savory will enhance the flavor of summer squash. Just don’t overpower the delicate flavor of the squash by using too many herbs and spices.

When preserving summer squash for later use, freezing is best preservation method because squashes are low-acid vegetables that require pressure canning. There is an uncertainty of the processing times necessary to destroy the Clostridium botulinum bacteria so pressure canning is not recommended for summer squash.

To freeze summer squash choose young squashes with a tender skin.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you wash your hands before preparing any fresh produce. The fresh produce needs to be rinsed well with lukewarm water before any further preparation takes place.

Blanching of vegetables is necessary to stop the enzymes that cause quality and color destruction over time. Blanching is the process of heat treating vegetables for a brief period of time with boiling water and plunging the vegetable into ice water to stop the cooking process. To blanch summer squash, plunge the ¼ inch squash slices into a pan of boiling water for three minutes. Then lunge them into ice water to stop the cooking action.

When packaging for freezing be sure to pat the summer squash dry with a paper towel to prevent freezer burn. If rigid freezer containers are used be sure to leave a ½ inch headspace. Seal, label, and freeze.

The best way to use those 10 to 12 inch overgrown zucchini is to grate it and use it for zucchini bread. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seedy middle section. Then wash, grate, and freeze the zucchini in one cup portions. Since thawed zucchini is watery, discard the liquid before using the zucchini pulp in a recipe.

The summer squash abundance may be overwhelming right now, but in the winter that piping hot slice of zucchini bread will be delicious. Enjoy the summer abundance of summer squash.

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