Friday, June 5, 2009

Recipe for a Garden Surpise

I've been boo-hoo-ing all summer because I can't seem to locate seeds for my favorite squash. When I was growing up we called it calabacita, which means "little squash." It's also called tatume, in grocery stores and on seed packs.

Let me sing its praises:

1) It's delicious -- sweet, tender, and meaty. And it won't go bitter in hot weather like zucchini can.

2) It's extremely drought tolerant. Last summer an unplananed event kept us away from home for 3 weeks. When we came back everything was dead except the peppers and calabacita. They were a bit shriveled, but still had fruit, and as soon as I gave them a drink of water they sprang right back, like nothing had ever happened.

3) It's extremely pest and disease resistant. In our area, the squash vine borer is endemic. Almost everyone gets hit by this creature sooner or later and once you've got it, forget about growing yellow squash. I had it in my garden in Austin and would get maybe two squash before the borer appeared. It attacks the vine at its base (by laying eggs that become huge slug-looking things) and kills the whole thing seemingly overnight. I keep hearing rumors of cures but I've never known anyone to be successful. And calabacita? The squash vine borer doesn't seem to like it.

So like I said, lots of moping around here when I couldn't fine any calabacita seed this year. Then, this volunteer appeared in the spot where I had last years compost pile. I ignored it, dragged hoses across it while I was watering other plants, stepped on it occaisonally rather than walk around it, but it persisted in living. Now I see this fruit which looks exactly like a calabacita. I don't know that it actually is my favorite squash; the vine looks different than the one I'm familiar with. But I live in hope.

Meanwhile, if you have access to calabacita seed, especially if you live in a hot, dry climate, you won't be sorry f you plant it. If you have access to the fruit itself, you won't be sorry if you eat it now.

So here's my favorite way to fix it. It's an old San Antonio, home-style, Mexican dish -- easy, quick, fresh, and comforting:

1) Take several bone-in pork chops and cut them into stir-fry size pieces. Leave the bone attached to one of the pieces.
2) Cut calabacita into inch-thick half rounds.
3) Remove corn from cob.
4)Cook pork in a large heavy skillet (a wok is great), at a very high temp (think stir fry temps).
5) When pork is cooked all the way through, add calabacita. Cook until tender. Don't stir too much. You want the outside of the squash to carmelize.
6) When the squash is cooked, add corn. Just cook it long enough to heat it. The corn should remain crisp.
7) Remove from pan, add a little water to the pan to deglaze juices, pour juices over pork, squash, and corn.

The idea is very much like a stir-fry -- food is cooked quickly at high temps and the veggies get a dark, carmelized glaze. The corn adds a sweetness and the squash should be slightly crisp and carmelized on the outside, creamy and soft on the inside. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Some people add comino but I like the pure flavors of the foods themselves.


  1. Oh, I love these and might have to look for them for next year! I wonder if they'd do well in humidity... Thanks for your comment on my blog! :) Silke

  2. I've never heard of that squash before. I looked for it in some seed catalogs but the only one that had it was the Seed Saver's Yearbook. I swear you can get anything in that book. Of course you have to be a member. I could use a zucchini that survives the vine borer. They are really bad around here. I've given up on pumpkins because of them. Now I mostly grow C. mochata which is resistant.

  3. Wow, Daphne, I didn't realize zucchini and pumpkin were vulnerable to squash borer! That is one brutal bug! Around here we can get tatume/calabacita at grocery stores part of the year, especially in the Mexican food section. I plan to get some and save the seed for next year. Do you have any Mexican veggie sections in your local stores?