Friday, October 20, 2017

Small is Beautiful

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
                                                  Richard  Brault
  Fall is the season of horticultural superlatives.There is a real thrill for farmers and gardeners everywhere to finally harvest those dinner plate sized dahlias or pickup bed sized pumpkins.

  Clifford and Keroy take particular pleasure in finding the biggest/ heaviest/ largest of any vegetable  that we grow. One pound peppers. Fifteen pound cabbages. Thirty-five pound watermelons. It is like the mother of all Easter egg hunts for us.

  The fly in the ointment can be to actually sell these monsters. It may take a village to breed, develop, sell the seed and grow it to harvest, but not everyone needs a single vegetable that will feed a village.

  We have grown Ultra HP, a variety of butternut squash for years. It attains impressive size, maturing to ten to fifteen pound sized monsters. Clifford and Keroy loved harvesting it, and outdid each other looking for the biggest specimens.

  They had grown more difficult to sell in recent years, so I dropped them from the starting lineup and looked for a more family-friendly butternut squash. Honeynut is the name of one of the new varieties that we trial planted last year.

  Clifford brought in the first bushel of them from the field in mid September of 2016, with a look of disgust written on his face.

  "These squash are wimps, mon!"

   (Clifford always ratchets up the decibels to emphasize certain words that he feels strongly about.)

  It was true. Inside the bushel was a collection of the smallest buttercup squash that we had ever grown, about a pound each.

  That first day, we gave some away, sold others and took a couple to try ourselves.

  They were and are, without a doubt, the sweetest and most delicious squash that we had ever eaten, and we have eaten a lot over the years. Anyone who tried them was back for more and we very quickly sold out.

 I have always been a buttercup squash guy, but these were good enough to get me to change my religion.

  Honeynut squash, as it turns out, is a cross between butternut and buttercup squash, thanks to the efforts of plant breeders at Cornell University. Before you ask: this was developed through good old-fashioned plant breeding and is not a GMO variety.

  Michael Mazourek, an assistant professor in plant breeding at Cornell since 2008 has spearheaded a move towards breeding better tasting vegetables rather than better shipping ones. The ultimate goal is to get people to eat more nutritious food by developing better tasting food.

  Honeynut squash, with its deep orange flesh, is packed with beta-carotene. The flavor appears to be maximized by roasting it until it caramelizes rather than steaming it.

  Don't forget to pick up a few to try and to add "sweetest", "tastiest" and "healthiest" to your list of fall superlatives.