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Summer Squash is a Choice You Make

Mature zucchini 3 months after harvest

I harvested this fully-mature zucchini just before frost in late October or early November. It has lived with my winter squash for about three months and shows no sign of decay. Its durability has made it clear: We choose to call zucchini summer squash when, in fact, it works just as well as winter squash.

Having been very distracted from my small kitchen garden last season, I let a few things get away from me. Perhaps the biggest of those things were zucchini.

My single hill of zucchini vines (three plants, one starting pot) was producing by August 1st. We consumed, perhaps, three fruits through the growing season. By mid September, one squash had grown large and stalled; a clear sign it was no longer fit to eat. I harvested it and set it in the house figuring I’d collect the seeds to plant in the coming year. A second squash that would have been fine eating in late September maxed out and joined the first as a likely seed-donor. Then I got really distracted.

Slightly wrinkled soft but edible 4 month old zucchini

The zucchini in this photo dates back to September of 2013, making it about four months since harvest. This one has turned yellow and it’s kind of soft; I can bend it easily and it “gives” when I press on it. Still, if I were relying on a store of such squashes to get me through the winter, this would look pretty good for a meal or two.

By the time frost was inevitable in late October (or was it November?), there was one last humongous zucchini on the vines. I harvested it before the freeze along with more than a hundred pounds of winter squash and stacked them all on a chair in the dining room. There they remained until Thanksgiving at which point I moved them onto the sofa bed in my office.

Zucchini and Winter Squash

I’ve written several times about the amazing durability of winter squash and how you can store it effectively by rolling it under a bed in a seldom-used guest room. I’ve had both blue hubbard squash and neck pumpkins remain in near perfect condition for as long as 13 months when stored in that manner. Zucchini, I’d always understood, was a wimpy cousin of winter squash that we have to use when it’s young. I now understand that growing zucchini as summer squash is a choice and nothing more.

Mature zucchini carved as winter squash

As I would with any winter squash, I peeled the skin from the zucchini, cut it open, and scooped out the seeds. This left about ¾ of an inch of only slightly soft fruit that smelled like fresh vegetable. Everything about the prepared zucchini qualified it as food.

Here, near the end of January, the three zucchinis I harvested in September and October are still in decent shape. In fact, the last one I harvested is indistinguishable from the day I brought it inside!

During the long “cold-storage” of my zucchinis, two of them have changed from deep green to squash yellow. The oldest zucchini had started to soften about a month ago, but it had virtually no other signs of decay.

Would You Eat a Four-Month Old Zucchini?

I butchered the oldest zucchini today and found it in terrific condition. I sautéd some with onions, tomatoes, and Italian seasonings, and it was fine (see below). It didn’t soften in cooking the way young zucchini does, but it softened and behaved in all other respects like zucchini: It brought virtually no flavor of its own to the dish and it added vegetable bulk. This mature, cold-stored summer squash was a bit like having a new vegetable to use in cooking—and it would certainly shred appropriately for use in breads, cakes, and other baked goods… but I don’t need more shredded zucchini; I froze plenty of it in-season!

Bottom line: If you’re overrun with zucchini in-season, let a bunch mature on the vines and harvest them just before frost. Store them as you would winter squash, and you’ll have another great (unexpected) winter vegetable.

Mid-winter sauted zucchini

I cut the squash into cubes and sautéd them in olive oil along with onions and canned tomatoes (from my garden). I added a touch of white wine, salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, and crushed red peppers and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Young zuke in summer would have been mushy by then. This well-aged zucchini turned translucent but it remained firm. I’m not a fan of zucchini to begin with, and this tasted every bit as good as any zucchini I’ve ever sautéd.

 

One Response to “Summer Squash is a Choice You Make”

  • I kind of wondered about that, seeing that I always have one or two that are still sitting around at the end of the winter. I thought maybe they fossilized. I did try using one, and I was surprised that it was pretty much fine.

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