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Squash Sex 101

Aug 03, 2010

A good man was hard to find this morning in the zucchini patch.

It's not that I can't distinguish male and female squashes, which have blossoms of both sexes on the same plant. The huge golden-yellow flowers look similar until you peer inside and find either a female pistil or a column of fused male stamens. But there's a much easier way to tell. Males are attached unceremoniously to long, slender stems. Females have a small bump between stem and flower base, containing the ovary. This bump will become a squash if the flower is pollinated.

I was also there at the right time of day. Squash blossoms open eagerly for the early-rising insects that pollinate them, most notably our native squash bee, so gold trumpets were open wide, as if sounding a mating call. I was on a mission: stuffed squash blossoms for lunch. Why males? Females are just as edible and stuffable. But for maximum squash production I leave the girls alone, along with just enough boys for the bees to gather pollen from and transfer it to the girls.

After hunting through the sprawling, scratchy-leaved vines I headed home with a basket of eight perfect male flowers, enough to feed two, along with bread and a big salad. I checked the petals in case I needed to brush off a bit of soil or knock out a few yellow-and-black-striped cucumber beetles. I trimmed the stems, leaving an inch for a little handle.

Stuffing and frying squash blossoms seems tricky, because they are fragile, but it's easy once you get the knack. I make a slurry of whole-wheat bread flour and water, the consistency of a thin pancake batter. I carefully insert a fat stick of cheese (the size of a finger joint) into each flower, which I dip in the batter. A twirling motion seals the flowers shut, keeping the cheese inside. I quickly fry these dripping packages in hot olive oil, in a cast-iron skillet, flipping them with a spatula so that they turn crisp and golden brown on both sides. The flowers puff slightly like little balloons.

After draining for a minute on paper towels, the blossoms must be eaten right away, with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, lest they turn soggy. No problem. They are irresistible.

I've tried a number of cheeses with this dish. Soft, mellow ones such as mozzarella, fontina, Havarti or Monterey Jack work best. My current favorite is raclette, but I should retest that assessment, at least once a week.

If male flowers remain scarce, female ones can be used, ovary and all. You'll prevent a few squashes from forming, but at this time in the summer, with zucchini piling up on the kitchen counter, a little squash birth control is a good thing. In case you need an excuse.


Article copyright of Barbara Damrosch, author of "The Garden Primer." Originally published in The Washington Post and reprinted with permission. Photo credit: Maggie Hoffman


I have heard of cooking squash blooms& daylilies too. But never heard of useing chesse. My squash burn up every year in late July. A friend said I should plant 3 hills every week up until August 1, next year. If his plan works for me, will have to try your recipe! Thank you again. Joel
Fried zucchini blossoms are an Italian staple and there is no way you can ever have or make too many! While cheese stuffed blossoms are the classic presentation, another alternative is to slip a bit of anchovy into the blossom along with some mozzarella. Just a word of caution don't use 'fior del latte' style mozzarella, it's too watery and you have a lot more splatter to clean up. In our house, we like them without any stuffing, more like a potato chip. I make a light slurry of flour and water, the consistency of sour cream, give the flowers a quick dunk and then into hot oil for about 30 seconds. Then drain and let rest for a few minutes. Then back into the oil for another 10 seconds so they get extra crisp. Drain on absorbent paper, add a sprinkle of salt and a dusting of adobe chili powder is all you need t finish the dish. I brought these to a picnic, not sure if my italian friends would be appalled at the variation on a sacred recipe, but when I saw some Italian nonas fighting over the last few bits, I figured the recipe was a success!
its very good topic on squash i learn about male and female.thanks good blog. http://BANKRUPTCY-QUESTIONS.Us
Hi Joel My courgette flowers are usually too slug nibbled to be edible. We have loads of daylilies in summer, how would you eat them? Glenn
Glenn, I've been trying to find out where day lillies shine for a couple of years now, and I think I "got it" yesterday. I did a garden sautee with corn off the cob (cooked the day before), leeks, mildly spicy peppers, and a red onion. Near the end I threw in the daylilly petals and nasturtium buds. After a moment I tossed in some purple basil and turned off the heat to let it all mellow into itself. It was absolutely wonderful. The flowers were exposed to the heat just long enough to get their flavor to infuse the rest....
salt and pepper to taste, of course. And it seems like I added some pinot grigio at some point as well..... just for fun. :)
Hi Its sounds fantastic. I,m coming for tea. Glenn
Glenn, I saute daylily blooms in butter, spice to taste( salt & pepper). I use less salt these days. :] You can eat these flowers: Bee Balm, chives, gladiolus, Hollyhock,Lavenders,mints,orange,pansy,pinks,redbud,tulips( flowers not the bulb),Yuccas. I have not tried these yet. Daylilies(Hemrocallis spp.) use the bud or day old spent blossoms, flaver is mild, not unlike green beans.You can batter-fry, steam & butter. NOTE: the list & alteriate cooking tips are from 52 weekend Garden Project by Nancy Bubel. Yes, this is the same Nancy Bubel who wrote Root Cellaring; She also wrote Working Wood with her husband, Michael Bubel, too. Nancy Bubel also wrote 4 other garden books.
Hi Joel. Good to hear from you. It is surprising what is edible that you would not normally consider eating. There is a site called 'Self Sufficient in Suburbia' where he makes a salad from all sorts of young shoots and leaves. I think it requires us to be a little bit more open minded, after doing the required research to make sure you don,t eat something dodgy. I will check out thye Nancy Bubel book. Glenn

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