Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Squash those gardening fears

I meet sooo many folks who would love to garden, but then faced with the idea of actually doing it, they get this wistful look on their faces and conclude that it's not possible for them. 
Yellow will be my theme color today.

Microsoft clip art.
My advice if you fall into this category: Start very small and see if it really does become a practice that you feel motivated to integrate into your lifestyle.  One of my neighbors did this last year, growing just a few fruits and vegetables.  This year, he had five cubic yards of soil delivered to his house (that's a lot, by the way), so that he could expand his personal gardening empire.  "All these years we've been married, I never knew he was like this," his wife said to me, shaking her head in disbelief and wonder at his newly-manifesting passion. 

If you fall into this category of gardening uncertainty, understand that, on the upper Texas coast, the top two obstacles to overcome are poor soil quality and the need for a strict (almost daily) watering regime, especially during the mean season (i.e., summer). 

There's also a third obstacle that daunts many suburban would-be gardeners, and the nature of that obstacle can take folks by surprise: what to do with the vegetables once they are harvested.  Mainstream America has moved so far in the direction of consuming mostly-processed foods that many people no longer know how to prepare an arm-load of fresh vegetables.  With this in mind, I'm going to show you an example of what to do in this fun photo series below.

In this post from last month, I talked about overcoming the soil obstacle, and I showed this stock tank with its newly-amended soils and newly-planted seedlings, including that squash plant out in front.  This was my first attempt at growing squash. 

Fast forward about six weeks: 
There's the same view a few days ago.  The good news is that my first ever squash plant "took".  The bad news is that it "took" to an extreme of becoming six feet in diameter, squashing every other seedling in the tank, but let me not get onto that tangent. 
Awwww, how cute!!  Squash blossoms are beautiful, but what they produce is even better. 
Incidentally, HCMG has reported some pollination problems with local squash and other vegetables (screengrab from their Facebook timeline), due to an apparent problem with bee shortages.  We have observed no shortages of bees in Centerpointe - in fact, quite the opposite, and my squash pollinated nicely, as this pic shows:
This is what became of that same flower - but what to do with such a strange looking object??  It looks like a giant yellow tektite or something. (Humorous factoid: Blogger knows how to auto-correct the spelling of the profoundly obscure word "tektite".  That's impressive.)

It's not a tektite - it's a crook-neck squash, but when hanging over the side of a stock tank, it will grow straight under its own weight, rather than having a crooked neck. 

Any seasoned gardeners looking at this particular photo will be thinking, "Ya screwed up, girlie!" but I will get to that in a minute. 
Here's another one with more conventional form.  Incidentally, those ants streaming into the adjacent blossom weren't doing any harm to the plant.  They just wanted the sweet nectar. 
So here's the first two harvested squash.  I named them Fat Man and Little Boy, a reference that some folks might not appreciate as objectively as I do.  Little Boy is actually not "little" compared to Fat Man, but he's more skinny, which is why the comparison seemed to fit, at least in a relative sense. 
OK, so now it's time to do something with these squash.  And anything to do with vegetables usually begins with a base layer of onions. 
In another stock tank, I grow a couple of onion varieties  in abundance.  If you grow these, you have to consume them (or at least cut them back) on an ongoing basis, or they'll just grow to take over the place and will also get tough and useless in the process. 
So I hacked off a couple of handfuls of onions...
"Let's put 'im in a pot" to cop the famous line from the movie Cold Mountain, a line from the breathtaking performance that won an Academy Award for fellow Houstonian Renee Zellweger

The "pot" in my case is always a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok, the rationale for which you can read here
Meanwhile, as the onions were cooking, I peeled and chopped Fat Man, and he turned out to be perfect, as non-nuclear squash go. 
"Ya screwed up, girlie!"

Yeah, I did, but it was my first attempt at growing squash, so I was unsure of when to harvest them.  Fat Man was great, but Little Boy proved to be already too old to use productively.  Squash toughen with advanced age, and them's not good eatin'.  See the hard outer rind around the outside, and the well-formed seeds inside?  This one had to go into the compost pile. 

But that was OK because I just went out and harvested three more baby squash from that massive plant, and they were tender and good. 

Now, I would be thrilled to use humanely-raised pork in a dish like this, but buying that on short notice in Clear Lake is near impossible.  So this is just mainstream tenderloin that I used instead. 
That goes in next (diced first), for browning. 
This is a crucial step: I know of no other spice that will work in this dish as well as Spice Lady's Mexican Mix.  She still doesn't seem to have a web site, but her stuff is sold at Clear Lake Shores Farmers Market and her address is listed as 609 Bradford Avenue #104, Kemah Texas and phone 832-563-6908. 
You'll notice that I'm not using measurements here.  You can look at the wok and deduce the ratios for the most part - the ingredient proportions don't have to be precise.  I was making a large volume of this dish, so I probably used four tablespoons of Mexican Mix.

I also added a dash of chipotle pepper and another dash of ground cumin and about two tablespoons of salt. 
After the meat got a bit browned, I threw in two diced potatoes. 
Then Fat Man and his three young siblings. 
Then I added 1.5 small cans of organic diced tomatoes. 

I also peeled and diced a few of this kind of squash which is generally referred to as "calabaza" or Mexican squash.  The dish would have been fine without it, but I had it in my refrigerator, so might as well use it. 

This dish I'm presenting here is a variant on a traditional Mexican stew that I've heard called "calabaza y puerco" or "calabaza con puerco", which basically just means pork and squash. 

Cover and simmer for about a half an hour, stirring every five to ten minutes so that the vegetables cook evenly. 

The tomatoes and squash will de-water with cooking, combining with the pork juices and spices to create a fantastic broth.  Brothy dishes usually freeze well because the broth excludes the air pockets that can lead to degradation (for more info on that, see this post titled "Healthy freezer-based diet management strategy"). 
Serve with pinto beans and corn tortillas. 
The moment of truth.  This stuff was fan-freakin'-tastic!!!

And look at the nutrition:  lean pork loin, with very little fat on it.  I used a bit of olive oil to sauté the green onions, so only healthy fat there.  And really, the balance of this meal is grains, legumes, and vegetables.  Pretty healthy stuff. 
So there's one idea for using back-yard squash harvested before they reach a tektite stage of toughness.  Happy eatin'! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'm forced to moderate comments because the spammers have become too much for me to keep up with. If you have a legitimate comment, I will post it promptly. Sorry for the inconvenience.