San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Squash: Great Provider

IF there were one word to describe tropical squashes, thatword would be abundance. If you would like to have anabundance of food from the garden, then I suggest you growthese giants.Known as ayote in Spanish, Curcubita maxima, is thenative pumpkin squash of the tropical Americas. Grown bythe indigenous tribes for ages before the Europeans arrived,these hardy plants are still one of the most important staplecrops of the area. Ayotes also provide an abundance of nutritionat each meal.According to Rodale Press, each one-half cup of cookedsquash contains up to 4000 units of vitamin A, .04 milligramsof vitamin B1, .05 milligrams of B2, 3 milligrams of vitaminC, 18 milligrams of calcium, 15 milligrams of phosphorusand 3 milligrams of iron.These hardy native plants are also resistant to insect attacks and plant diseases,which makes them easy to grow in the home garden. Many gardeners, includingmyself, have had poor luck with growing zucchinis, yellow crookneck and othernorthern varieties of squash here in the tropics. These varieties are genetically adaptedto northern conditions, which seem to make them vulnerable to tropical insectsand diseases.WE also discovered that the young succulent native tropical squashes taste justas good as the northern varieties.Here are some tips on growing your own ayotes at home:First, start with good soil fertility when planting ayotes. We usually start bypreparing a hole about 1 meter in diameter and 30-40 cm deep. In this hole we applyone wheelbarrow load of rich, aged compost that is fortified with two shovels full ofashes. Next, we plant three ayote seeds in the center about 5 cm deep and 30 cmapart. Areas where brush and leaves have been burned are ideal spots for plantingayotes.Keep the young plants free of weeds, and when the ayote plants begin to coverthe area, begin to prune the leading tips of the vines. By the way, locals taught us touse these tender tendrils for a spinach-like vegetable dish known as “quelites deayote.”Pruning your ayote plant helps to keep it compact, and in fact, stimulates floweringand the production of squashes.When the plant begins to produce its pretty, brilliant, yellow flowers, keep a close eye on the production of thetender young squashes. Begin toharvest the young squashes whenthey reach the size of about a cantaloupe.At this stage, they are asdelicious as zucchinis. Leave othersdevelop to their full size for seedproduction and use them as maturesquashes.YOU’LL find that an ayote plantcan produce for several months, providingan abundance of deliciousmeals for the family. Here are severalrecipes from our kitchen forpreparing native tropical squashes.Quelites de Ayote – Sautee onediced onion with two tablespoons ofolive oil in a frying pan. Add a largehandful of diced ayote tips. Addoregano and thyme, cook briefly andserve.Squash Stir-Fry with Heart ofPalm – Sautee one diced onion withtwo tablespoons of olive oil in a fryingpan. Add one cup of diced tendersquash and one cup of slicedpejibaye heart of palm.Add oregano, cumin and thyme,and then stir fry the mix until thevegetables are tender but crisp.Vegetable Squash Pie – Preparea piecrust as you would for any pie.Pre-bake for several minutes in theoven until the piecrust is brown.Meanwhile, cook two cups of dicedmature squash until it is soft, thenpuree. Sautee a selection of vegetables,like onions, carrots, broccoli,and celery with oregano, cumin andthyme. Add the squash puree to thevegetables and pour into the piemold.Bake for 15 minutes at 300° F.Serve while the pie is still warm as amain dish.You can obtain seed for plantingby shopping in your local market.Ask for varieties that have soft edibleskins, or if you like, send us aself-addressed stamped envelope toNew Dawn, A.P. 372-8000, SanIsidro del General, Costa Rica andwe’ll send you a gift pack of seeds.We also have books, more seedsand classes to share on our Web

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