I wanted to write just a bit more about the tropical pumpkin vine that grew as a volunteer plant from seed next to our compost pile…the calabaza. Calabaza is in the gourd family and can function as both a summer and winter squash, depending upon the stage of harvest. It usually matures in 100-110 days, but there is now a variety with a shorter time till harvest.
We’re really new to this, but enjoyed eating it from the ethnic markets nearby for some time now. It’s been fun for us to have one growing for ourselves this year, though, to try some hands-on and further the learning curve.
In case you were wondering, although it’s a plant that’s considered sub-tropical, I’ve run across plant literature from states as far north as Massachusetts promoting it as a hardy crop in many areas for summer growing. It basically can be grown about anywhere pumpkins can.
We have enjoyed watching ours mature, and it wasn’t until this past week that we had any problem with insect damage. Some sort of borer decided to have fun with them, but even so, we nabbed several undamaged ones, and are simply using the ones with some damage by salvaging the undamaged parts immediately. Until that point, they’d shown remarkable resistance to any sort of insect damage or maladies.
In fact, we’re not convinced the borer damage was from squash vine borers, since it isn’t matching up to what we’ve read about them so far. Another blogger is helping us try to narrow it down so we can see what we’re working with (thanks, ~P!) But when it became clear we have some sort of critter on our hands trying to eat our calabazas before we could, we chose to go ahead and harvest what we had. We harvested 11 fruits from the one plant, ranging in size from 14 lbs to 6 lbs.
This is such a wonderful multiple-use plant, I thought I’d show some of its versatility…quite a few delicious and nutritious things from the same plant.
First, the blooms are edible. They are delicious battered and fried as fritters, or stuffed with cheeses and spreads. They can be chopped fine and added raw to salads, too, for a beautiful yellow color.
Next, the smaller, immature fruits can be sliced and fixed as a summer squash, grilled, stuffed, sauteed, baked, etc. I love making squash casserole with it, rich with a touch of cream…some sea salt, a bit of pepper and some chopped onion, topped with butter and crumbs and baked, it’s simplicity itself… and with a touch more sweetness than crookneck squash. (And soooo good with cornbread and purple hull peas…tomatoes…little green onions, mmm)
We initially wanted to allow all our developing calabaza fruits to become as big as possible, but after we saw signs of borer damage, we harvested all the fruits regardless of size and we have a good range of harvested calabazas. We hope the undamaged larger ones will store well in a cool, dark closet. They pale over time, often from green to beige, as they are stored. Of course we are going ahead and using the young ones now.
Next, the leaves…
We’ve been harvesting these on and off, trying not to denude the plants, but the vines are so long (they are said to get as long as 50 feet per vine) there are still plenty to gather to eat for greens. We were excited to experiment with their use as greens. We do use them boiled or sauteed as we’d use most cooked garden greens, after slicing them thinly into a chiffonade. They aren’t bad, and have no bitter taste. I really enjoy them sauteed in a bit of olive oil. We also mix them with the other greens we gather from the purple hull cowpea plants.
The mature calabazas are most like pumpkins or winter squashes, with a mild taste and stringless, nearly velvety texture when cooked. They can be baked halved, or even whole…roasted, boiled…however you’d cook a pumpkin.
There is a slight, pleasant sweetness, but not as marked as a butternut squash. We’ve found it to be a very versatile pumpkin for use baked, roasted, in soups, and in baked goods such as cakes, breads, muffins, and pies. It makes a nice foil for savory dishes such as meats or beans, and so far has worked well for us if frozen for small periods of time, if cooked first.
Below is one of our peasant meals of calabaza, beans, and cornbread.
Its texture and flavor can go savory as well as sweet…delicious all by itself, or brushed with olive oil and roasted with rosemary and thyme…or made into a great squash butter with pumpkin pie spices and brown sugar or maple syrup…and so on and so on.
It’s the base of Jack’s favorite soup, too (his most requested dish, ever, besides lamb curry)…almost a bisque rich with tubers and root veggies both blended and some left in chunks, in a rich broth made from the pan juices and stock from roasted turkey. Below is a picture of the soup in progress, before blending and adding roasted calabaza chunks.
And if that’s not use enough for one versatile plant, the seeds are wonderful roasted as well. They can be eaten whole, if roasted, and can be prepared with either savory or sweet spices for a great homemade snack.
It’s too bad we had to do a hasty harvest, but even so, that one plant brought in over 90 lbs of food, not counting the leaves and blossoms…yay! I’m glad we tried it and found that in all its stages, it has really added so much bounty to our table. We have another calabaza growing on a different portion of our property, and anticipate always having one on hand to see how it fares in the different seasons here in Florida, with all its vagaries. We’re wondering if the timing of planting may have something to do with the stages of whatever insect did the recent damage.
At any rate, it’s one versatile plant, even in a wide range of growing zones. It’s a veritable grocery store on a vine. Maybe it’s a plant that could find its way to your neck of the woods, too