Sunday, October 07, 2012

Squash time!

Marina di Chioggia (front) and Galeux d'Eysines heirloom winter squash
Ah, fall: time for the leaves to turn color (but not here in SoCal), the temperatures to drop (but not here in SoCal), and your Rainy Day Gardener to become obsessed with... winter squash!  We love pumpkins and other winter squashes here at RDG headquarters, and we use them for all sorts of things: fall decor, demented-looking jack o'lanterns, baking, and even dog food (yes, really).  Let's take a look at the many pumpkin possibilities.

Growing them
It's a bit late to plant pumpkins, unless you live in Australia.  But you can start planning for next year.  Anyone can grow a plain o'l orange pumpkin, but we like to be creative.  I first got inspired to grow weird squashes (remember: a pumpkin is just a big winter squash) by Amy Goldman's beautiful book, The Compleat Squash, which I reviewed several years ago:

Now I grow all kinds of funky things, as you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post.  For some reason, I love funny-looking, warty squashes.  If you'd like to grow something besides a plain orange pumpkin, try one of the many heirloom seed vendors, like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Just take a look at their winter squash selection: lots of warty, funky goodness!

My husband's giant pumpkins.  For him, bigger is always better.
My husband also grows giant pumpkins, which look cool but are a pain to move without a forklift.  We don't do anything special to make them really huge, so ours won't win any prizes.  But if you want to grow the biggest pumpkins in town, check out

If you didn't grow any pumpkins or winter squash this year, don't despair: 'tis the season when pumpkin patches, vegetable stands, and even supermarkets begin stocking various winter squashes, including some weird (and even warty) ones for fall decor.  Some pumpkin patches even sell giant pumpkins, in case you want to impress your neighbors without breaking your back.

The great thing about pumpkins and other winter squash is that they do double duty: they look great on your porch in the fall, and they taste great on your table afterward.  If you have some now, you'll want to keep them someplace fairly cool, so they don't rot too soon.  If you live in the northern part of the country, you can probably leave them outside, as temperatures should be starting to drop (right?).  Just bring them in if there will be a hard freeze.  If you live down here in Hell's Half Acre... er, I mean Southern California, you may want to keep them in your air-conditioned house for a few more weeks.  Did I mention it was 104F last weekend?  Ugh.

One more tip: if you don't mind plain pumpkins, you can often get them free after Halloween, either from pumpkin patches or grocery stores or from your neighbors who didn't carve theirs.  Most jack o' lantern pumpkins aren't as good for eating (they don't all have that rich orange flesh, and some can be a little stringy), but you can eat them, or you can use them for dog food like we do. 

In a follow-up post, we'll talk about what to do with your weird, warty wonders after Halloween/Thanksgiving/whenever you're tired of looking at them.  We'll butcher 'em, cook 'em, puree 'em, and eat 'em or put 'em in the freezer. It'll be like a squash slasher flick!

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