To have a place to talk about food, food follies, recipes, garden lore, historical garden & food lore, climate & weather, natural selection, food selection, building health and so on. To skewer the silly, serve up the savory and garnish with gleanings from the news. To flame, to flesh out the facts, to farm the fun, to portion out the passion and perfect the presentation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Squash: Are you ready to grow some? Some videos for you.

These first two videos demonstrate briefly how to grow butternut squash, a delicious and popular winter squash.

This video shows how to grow squash in very limited space by guiding the vines up a simple trellis.

How to store and harvest winter squash. Under good conditions some can last up to 6 months - great food storage!

I hope you enjoyed these videos. Please leave me some feedback by clicking Comments.

Recipes I love using squash

Here are some excellent squash recipes, either from trusted chefs or ones I have made and loved. Please leave your feedback in a comment here, and add your own recipe if you've got a great one that uses squash.

Basic squash custard and variations. Good for any main course or dessert. Standard stuff at our house.
Winter squash souffle. I haven't tried this but it sounds wonderful. From Nourished Kitchen.
Pepitas (roasted squash seeds - heavenly snack, healthy too. See story about ancient uses of squash seeds)
Pipian Rojo This traditional sauce uses squash seeds to thicken and flavor savory dishes.

The pre-history of squash - guess where it came from!

To the reader: The links in this post include references, photos, recipes, and books. I could have displayed the photos but not without the danger of violating copyright laws. I hope you enjoy them on the linked sites, especially the ones linked to the story about the San Xavier mission.

Squash appears to be a New World plant. All the earliest archaeological finds of the cultivation of squash have occurred somewhere in the middle Americas. (This is not true of melons and gourds close relatives of squash.) Here are some interesting facts about the early cultivation of squash:
South of Tucson, out in the broad floodplain of the Santa Cruz river, a cathedral rises up like a vision. It is called San Xavier del Bac, a mission founded by Father Eusebio Kino in about 1650. Next to this lovely building is a small museum. Photos of traditional agriculture show temporary shelters where Tohono O'odham farmers rested during the flood season, when they could take advantage of the seasonal monsoons to irrigate their crops. 

They grew what had been grown there for millennia, namely squash, corn, chilies, tepary beans, and a few others. These formed their diet, along with the occasional deer or javelina (wild relative of the pig). 

When the rains stopped, the community moved to more hospitable living quarters back in their home communities.

When Europeans arrived and set up the mission, they were unfamiliar with the seasonal migration routine and prevailed upon the Tohono O'odham to settle down into their communities and no longer follow the seasonal planting cycle.

So the Desert People had no choice but to begin to eat the foods the Europeans ate. Today the Tohono O'odham have the highest incidence of diabetes of any Native American community. 

Outside the museum, surrounding the entrance to the cathedral, booths made of native plants serve traditional chili and (perhaps not so traditional) fry bread to tourists. It alone is worth the visit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Garden: it's time for squash, maybe...

You can read about growing winter squash organically (or otherwise) all over the internet. I went to and searched using these exact keywords: growing winter squash organically and found hundreds of sites that told me how to grow winter squash.

Unfortunately I have been entirely spoiled by reading the excellent chapter on growing squash by Carol Deppe in her book The Resilient Gardener. And I suggest you do too.

For Carol, squash is one of the 5 essential crops for being able to survive without recourse to grocery stores. (The others are potatoes, corn, beans, and ducks. Curious about why? I can't recommend this book too highly.)

Squash needs warm soil to grow. So depending on where you live, it might be necessary to get a start on the season by seeding them indoors.

Here where I live in the Pacific Northwest, the season is long enough between frosts. But we never get very warm, and squash like it warm. I need to start them indoors, plus warm up the soil with a plastic cover. (More on what kind of plastic cover another time.)

Here's the very specific issue we all face: The best-keeping squash are the giant ones, and the giant ones grow so vigorously that they outgrow their little indoor-seeding pots almost immediately. Their roots burrow through the bottom of peat pots and then are damaged when the seedlings are transplanted.

We can lose the whole crop this way, or we can end up with only the weakest, slowest-growing of the giant squashes: they're the only ones whose roots don't poke out of their little pots and hence get damaged during transplanting.

Carol Deppe, who is adept at seed-saving as well as growing her own food, makes a strong case that this is the best way to lose the best characteristics of all giant squash.

Bush squash have a slower pattern of growth, and there's no problem with starting them indoors. The squash are much smaller and their roots aren't nearly as aggressive as those of their larger cousins.

So March is the time for starting squash. Start them outdoors if you're in one of the minority of places in North America where the soil is warm. And start bush squash (usually C. pepo varieties) indoors for transplanting. For the biggest (C. maxima) squash, you'll have to wait to direct-sow them directly in the garden when the soil is warmed up.

And that will give you time to read Carol's great book!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do you eat winter squash? Some great things about it.

Whole books have been written about squash. And according to the chapter on squash in Carol Deppe's wonderful book The Resilient Gardener, squash is one of the 5 essential foods we should consider growing.

(If I had tried to guess which 5 foods were essential, I would not have guessed squash! But Carol Deppe makes a very good case for squash. In fact, she makes squash sound irresistible.)

You can find nutritional facts for winter squash online.

Some reasons to eat winter squash:

  • low calorie
  • rich, intense, satisfying taste - both filling and nutritious
  • low glycemic index - 8 on a scale that goes as high as 250
  • anti-inflammatory
  • high protein for a veggie that's not a legume (pea, bean)
  • many vitamins and minerals, esp vitamin A (if you don't eat squash often, you may need this)

Carol Deppe grows enough winter squash (of particular varieties) to last her all spring, until late-spring and summer veggies begin to come in. And she reports she never gets tired of them.

Carol makes such a good case for squash that I am ready to grow enough to store next winter. That means trying some new recipes, too.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Think it's getting hot?

Over the past 100 million years, Earth's temperature was hotter than it is now about 97% of the time.

Ice ages began in earnest 1 million years ago. (Earlier episodes of glaciation also occurred.)

In the past 1 million years, in what we call the Quarternary Ice Age, we have had advances of ice every 100,000 years. We are currently in an interglacial period of the Quarternary Ice Age.

Only 10,000 years ago, while Earth was warming from the last Ice Age, a partial new ice age began that lasted only 1000 years. (It was called the Younger Dryas.)

At the end of that 1000 years, about 9000 years ago, the temperature rose quickly and Earth was hotter than it is now.

It's cooled off slightly since then, and we are enjoying a nice stable warm period, more stable than any in the past few million years.

Since 9000 years ago we have gone through several warming and cooling cycles with smaller ups and downs than the earlier spikes. The most recent of these is the 'Little Ice Age' of about 1300-1850 AD.

We're still warming from the Little Ice Age but have not reached the warmth of 9000 years ago.

What's next? Looking at the past, the best answer is more cooling, and sooner or later another ice age. How man's activities might change that - if man could come close to changing such powerful cycles - is unknown.

For more information about temperature variations on Earth, see: Ice Ages and Interglacials by Donald Rapp, The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan, and Frozen Earth by Doug Macdougall.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Winter garden

To read a solid article about what can be grown in the winter, read this article.

Maybe not actually grown, says Eliot Coleman in his very popular book on four-season gardening. But we don't need everything to grow, just stay alive for winter harvest. And then the veggies are ready to start growing again when spring arrives.

He goes into detail about how to extend the growing season all over the country.

Then we can have garden-fresh veggies all year round, even in cold places.


What do you think of potatoes? Years ago they were considered a starch. Today some people avoid them because they have calories. When we're traveling by car and trying to put on the miles, we like to stop at Wendy's because they have baked potatoes, and if you get the plain ones, they're really inexpensive.

A lot of people like the taste of potatoes, for example mashed with lots of butter, but feel guilty for eating them. And a lot of people avoid them entirely.

These days there are russets, whites, reds, and yellows in most stores. And often there are fingerlings. Most people buy potatoes frequently. Or they buy mashed potatoes in boxes.

If you want a passionate discussion of the virtues (many) of potatoes, the ease of growing them yourself, the harmful chemicals used on store potatoes, and suggestions for storing them and living off them for months at a time, you must read The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe.

She will convince you in short order that you should eat more, grow some, and enjoy them without guilt.

Now is a perfect time to plant potatoes. They're fun to grow because they do well in bags. But that's another topic. I hope to get to it soon.

"Don't eat canned tomatoes"

In a recent (no obvious date) article by Prevention Magazine, I found out that we all shouldn't be eating canned tomatoes. The lining of the cans leaks bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen.

The article is called "7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips" and starts with canned tomatoes, including quotations by experts and references, plus an explanation of why we don't want to consume synthetic estrogen.

So eating canned tomatoes is something like being on birth control pills, which little spaghetti eaters don't need.

Fortunately some companies that can tomatoes have switched to glass jars. Nice to have an alternative to cans.

Another alternative is to grow your own tomatoes. They're cheaper, more fun, and don't have anything on them or in them that you don't want. Gardens are groovy, or if you don't have the time and space, put your tomatoes in containers. No cans needed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The great outdoors!

All last week I looked longingly outside but didn't want to walk the icy roads. Snow doesn't fall here often, but last week we got 6 inches and by nightfall it had turned to ice. No plows came to scrape it up. So I stayed indoors.

But I wanted to go out. Right now I want to go out to plant my garden, walk safely around the block, throw off my jacket and boots...

Ironic, then, that even yesterday I didn't go out, even though it was merely overcast with a few rain showers. I've gotten in the habit of being inside, cooking, writing, sitting on chat with my daughter.

When I was a kid, I did everything I could to be outside. On Fall Saturdays I chose to rake leaves rather than dust the furniture. In Winter I shoveled snow by choice. After school in Spring I played baseball or rode my bike. I found salamanders and snakes down by the brook. My friends played outside roller skating or jumping rope. That's what kids did.

It's not true any more. Kids today spend almost all their time indoors, according to writer-naturalist Mike Weilbacher in an article called Want healthy kids? Unplug them and send them outdoors published in Mainline Media News. He reports:

At the same time, numerous studies indicate kids are physically and mentally healthier if they spend time outdoors and in nature. They calm down when surrounded by green, which seems to ameliorate their ADD. And free play outside lets children develop social skills they can’t get from tube-watching (or from playing sports under adult supervision), and their skills are more age-appropriate. They are more creative too.

We all need to go out more, but especially our children. Take a look at the article, and maybe read the book Mike Weilbacher talks about. Someone needs to reverse the trend - why not the kids in your life? Or you?