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Winter Squash Knife

Yellow Lemon Squash PieCasually chatting to Andy next door about the virtues of Winter Squash, specifically the Tonda Padana we so love here at Merrybower, we happened upon the issue of cutting the tough blighters open – I was yet to find the perfect winter squash knife.

To date I have broken two knives attempting to slice open the green and yellow peril you can see to the left in the background (that’s Suz’s scrummy Lemon Yellow Squash Pie by the way – recipe here). One steel kitchen knife, and another a ceramic knife bought by little sister – gutted! (Me – the squash remained intact).

On hearing the news of the sad demise of two knives, Andy piped up:

“I’ll make you a knife.”

Me: “Eh? A knife for slicing Winter Squash?”

Andy: “Yep. What kind of things does it need to have?”

Me:  “Well – hefty, these things are tough on the outside. But there’s not much give in them, so a narrow blade too.”

Andy: “So a tall blade then? Right-oh.”

Winter Squash KnifeA few weeks later, this beast of a winter squash knife was passed over the garden fence – reclaimed British steel and an oak handle made from a small oak I felled a year ago. What a sight! Well-balanced for someone of my height, a keen edge and perfect grip size – made to measure! All we need now is to grow some Tonda Padana as this year was sparse in the patch due to having no kitchen at the start of the year, and try it out. Can’t wait!

Winter Squash Harvest

2015 Winter SquashWith the first grass frosts expected any day, it seemed judicious to harvest the various winter squash and secrete them away in a dark place to wait the winter out, until we needed them.

Tonda Padana

It hasn’t been a bad harvest – the Tonda Padana, as ever, have done amazingly well – they’re the dark/light green stripey one with the light green stripes being raised quite proud (they’re mostly on the left). These are most definitely our favourite winter squash – we haven’t had a bad year yet, despite having extremes in weather over the years – from dry to wet, warm to cold.

Berrettina Piacentina

The Berrettina Piacentina weren’t quite so good – they’re the dusky green and orange striped at the back on the right. I think we may only have had one of them, and three Tondas – I know there was some argy bargy going on with planting stations when some failed to germinate!

Custard Whites

And then we have the Custard Whites – or UFOs as we like to call them. We still haven’t eaten one yet, but they look so funky I’d be happy to grow them purely for the fact they look like a happy winter squash (big, juicy and healthy!).

Butternut Rugosa

The big disaster was the Butternut Squash – Butternut Rugosa. We had absolutely nothing from them, any that had started to grow simply stopped developing and went moldy on the plant. The only thing I can put it down to was the three weekends we were away – but I’ll have to look into it.

Sowing, Transplanting & Shuffling

2015 Baby Leeks

Baby Leeks

With glorious weather finally foisted upon us, there was no time to lose! It’s been a rather weird start to the year – first it was perfect, nice and warm early on. Then through May it gradually became colder again, with the winds picking up so much that anything put in the ground that is mildly nesh (prefers a warmer temperature), just sat there and refused to grow! The sweetcorn were like stubborn little whisps of wafty green, perfectly happy to remain about 3″ from ground level.

2015 June Soil Miller

Wolf Garten Soil Miller & My Stick

So today was the turn of the leeks. All the books say ‘wait until they’re the thickness of pencils’ before transplanting to their “final positions. Well – these were the thickness of the lead in a pencil, but it was time to move them out. I blame the compost we used to start everything off indoors – nothing really burst into life – tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, leeks. You name it, they all look quite small – I think the mix was too coarse for the roots.

Leeks are so easy to plop in the ground. First I used the Wolf Garten Soil Miller to rotovate the ground to about 4″ along the 30′ line the leeks were destined to occupy.

2015 June Leeks Planted

Puddled Baby Leeks

I then used my trusty stick to poke holes about 4-6″ deep, spaced at 6″ apart. Dropped a baby leek into each, puddled the hole with water from a watering can and that was that. They do look quite pathetic, but we’ll see how they go on – I’ve spare left in case they’re not hardy enough but memory tells me they’ll do okay.

2015 June Celery Celeriac Swede

Celery, Celeriac & Swede

2015 June Stick

My Stick

About my stick – it’s probably THE most useful item I have. I crudely fashioned it from a relatively straight piece of holly tree around 5 years ago. As it dried out it developed cracks in a spiral fashion, but they’ve never grown any bigger than the day they stopped growing. I’ve marked out one foot sections along its length, with a smaller 2″ section at the end, which makes it ideal for measuring out planting spaces and distances in a rough manner. I do like things spaced correctly, and this gives me enough peace of mind without resorting to the tape measure (I kid you not). Plus it’s handy for carrying several bags of veg over the shoulder with, warding off angry geese, rounding up chickens, and leaning on when my two existing legs have had enough 🙂 It’s just over 4′ long – which is a bit too short. My dad talks of being the last scout troop in Birmingham to wear the floppy hats, and they also carried proper 6′ staves in case they stumbled across an injured person in need and had to use them to make stretchers from their scarves and staves. I’m reasonably sure that crisis never arose in Kings Heath, but if it did, you could bet the local scouts were prepared! I digress. What it does mean is that I would like a 6′ stave – it would be a much more useful length, I could use it to vault small ditches and I’d be two foot safer from the geese on a bad day.

Then it was on to the last line empty in the onion patch. I’d left it free for celery seed, celeriac transplants and swede – another nice and easy job for the soil miller, which as you can probably tell is fast becoming my favourite tool, after my stick and my old rake.

2015 June Celeriac

Baby Celeriac

Next to the onions, a bit of time was spent reordering the squash – two custard corgettes (the UFO shaped thingummys) had failed to populate their station, whereas the two at the neighbouring station had both germinated. Sensible thing was to pull one out and transplant – they seemed happy enough about it.

Finally on to the peas and beans. Agh! I do suspect a mix of mice, slugs, pigeons and a cold start are contriving to upset me. The runner beans I’d started off under the cut-in-half plastic milk cartons had done well. They had obviously been nobbled slightly by slugs, despite having placed a couple of slug pellets into each carton. Some had no plants, most had one, some had two. As it turned out we had enough for all but one pole, so 19 out of 20 – meaning we need to plant another one, and something had nobbled 21 of the beans.

2015 Squash

Squash Congregating Under the Safety of a Plastic Bag

It could have been any of the four above culprits, as 38 of the 40 climbing French beans had been nobbled, as all were not under the cover of plastic, but laid bare to the elements. I don’t think it was mice as there was no evidence of digging. I do know that some of the broadbeans had been pulled out, pigeon work if ever there was, so they are my main culprit. But judging my general slug damage, I wouldn’t put it past them too, although there wasn’t really any sign of stumps, which slugs tend to leave. Perhaps the colder weather just prevented them from starting, and that’s why there’sno evidence. Whatever the reason, we now have 24 potted beans waiting to germinate near the house, under wire mesh. The broadbeans had met a similar fate – one row looked quite sparce until you brushed away the top cover of soil, revealing the bowed heads of a shoot about to push through. However, the other two rows had over half missing, many had been nibbled off at the top. I suspect mice in this case – pigeons tend to pull them out and disgard them in disgust. I’ve no idea how to combat mice as they can nibble through netting (there’s also a hole in the scaffold netting to the side of the beans, which is also suspicious. Anyway, I planted more beans, I’ll sprinkle more slug pellets, and I may even invest in more netting. Perhaps I should just camp out 24/7 in the bean and pea patch!

Recipes

Lemon Yellow Squash Pie

With an abundance of Tonda Padana winter squash – grown for its amazing taste and storage properties – Suz adapted a squash recipe found elsewhere. It went something like this:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tonda padana squash
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda (sweetener)
  • 3 teaspoons white flour
  • 2 eggs (kindly donated by Holly and Mistletoe)
  • 1/4 cup baking margerine (Stork, but butter will do)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • pastry for the base (to suit)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350C.
  2. Wash and peel the squash.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and save to bake separately for another dish.
  4. Cut the squash into manageable chunks
  5. Grate the squash with a coarse grater (a typical cheddar cheese grater is good)
  6. Mix all the ingredients (except the pastry!)
  7. Line a pie dish with the pastry – it’s only going to be the base.
  8. Fill the base with the squash mix.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes on the low rack, but in our fan-oven it only took 27 minutes.

That’s it! Suz baked a couple of them – they lasted two days (personally I’m surprised they lasted that long!), and the second was even better as the lemon had time to really soak into the squash.

On the subject of squash – we worked out, given the seed packet cost, how much it costs to make a meal per person. Suz concocted another gorgeous recipe – Baked Squash Soup – roughly speaking the ingredients are baked squash, baked garlic, fried onions, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and some milk. This soup, with grated cheese on top, a couple of slices of bread and butter, gives you all you need and the soup contingent costs around 10p per person per meal. The squash, onion and garlic are all home-grown. So including the cheese and bread and electricity you’re probably looking at 40p maximum per person per meal. I’m saying this, not for the cost perspective, but for the fact that as a nation we have forgotten how to eat cheaply *and* well. I only wish local councils would help people who want to grow their own by encouraging allotments, teaching people, and we could all have a bash at that smug feeling to be had from chowing down on your own produce. Sometimes our priorities are so messed up. Sure, it takes a lot of time to grow and prepare the food from your own patch, but what else would we be doing? Watching the goggle box? Paying for gym membership, when all the exercise I could possibly wish for was at the end of a fork or spade?