Lauterbach: Oh, the variety of squash; a tomatillo surprise when planted side by side

Special to The Idaho StatesmanNovember 7, 2013 

Margaret Lauterbach planted two varieties of tomatillos next to each other this summer and they cross-pollinated.

MCT

This winter is to be a "normal winter," neither El Nino nor La Nina. We've had so many of those two alternating winter seasons it's hard to remember what a "normal" winter is like.

I hope it's a "banana belt" winter like we used to have.

I still have Russian and Tuscan kale and collards in the ground as well as harvestable mesclun and corn salad. Most of the corn salad will continue to grow, although slowly now, with reduced sunshine. Other beds have been planted with annual winter grass and hairy vetch.

Now we may enjoy the fruits of the summer's labor. Winter squash, including those we call pumpkins, sit as plump enticers to cooks tempted to make soups, stews, side dishes or even dog biscuits from the sweet thick meat.

Some varieties of pumpkin are better for human consumption than others. Those large pumpkins grown for jack-o'-lanterns, for instance, aren't tasty for humans, but elephants and other beasts enjoy them. I am offended by pumpkin hurling, wasting food, but some folks find it entertaining.

Best tasting for humans are the pie pumpkins. Unless you have grown them or know someone who has grown a pie pumpkin, use a butternut squash for pie instead.

Butternut squash is easy to peel, too, using a regular potato peeler. Some folks cube the meat and roast it, dabbed with a bit of butter. It cooks faster than you'd expect, so watch it, testing with a fork.

Sweet Meat squashes have darker orange flesh and the flesh is thicker than for most other winter squashes. Butternut only has seeds in the flared bulb of the squash, the neck is solid meat. Folks who grow huge Hubbard squash usually have to cut into them with an ax.

The best squashes for humans are butternut, acorn, buttercup, Hubbard, Sweet Meat, turban, banana and spaghetti squash.

Climbing zucchini, too, has few seeds, all located in the round bell of that squash. The long neck is solid meat.

Winter squash are rich in vitamins and minerals, vitamins A, C, B6, E, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium and riboflavin.

Seeds are nutritious, too. Separate them from the fibrous material as best you can, then soak them in salty water for an hour or two. That will help you remove the rest of the fiber. Rinse seeds and dry them on a paper towel, add any seasonings you wish, then roast at 300 degrees F. for about 15 minutes. It helps to stir them a couple of times while they're roasting so all are crisp and golden.

Then bite off the pointed end, pull off the shell and eat the nut inside. Or you could put the raw seeds out for wildlife treats.

TOMATILLO TIPS

I found out an important thing this year in my garden. That is, you can plant the large green tomatillo (Cisineros variety) and a purple tomatillo side by side and they'll pollinate one another. If you plant only one tomatillo plant, you'll probably not get any fruit. Some folks say they get fruit from a single plant, but evidence I've seen is that they're self-sterile.

Tomatillo fruits are used in salsa for snacks and enchilada sauce. They're also excellent in tossed salads. Better yet, they keep very well, so long as you don't remove the husks. Once you do remove husks, wash tomatillos in soapy water if you wish, but be sure to rinse thoroughly. There's a sticky substance that adheres the husk to the fruit that I just rinse and rub off in water.

The plants are large, about the size of indeterminate tomato plants, but they're rangy, and harder to cage than tomatoes.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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