Tennessee Mountain Stories

The Humble Squash

There are foods we eat on the mountain that would seem strange to some outsiders.  I’d imagine most urban-dwellers have never heard of dry-land fish and if they saw the funny little mushrooms they’d turn their heads.  And of course we use pretty much every part of a hog, including the whole head.  But in the summertime the abundance of fresh garden vegetables can transform the mountain table into a vegetarian delight.  One of my favorite summer foods is yellow squash.

It’s got to be the easiest thing to grow in the garden and a few plants will feed a big family for weeks.  It can be replanted and enjoyed right up till the frost kills out your plants.  In fact, there are often so many squash coming out of the garden that you try to think creatively how to use them.

Fried – that’s the best way.  Of course frying works well for so many foods.  Rolled in cornmeal and fried crisp, yellow squash are just about the tastiest vegetable we grow. 

Okay, have I established that I really like this food? 

Well I don’t need to tell you that squash have been around a really long time.  Wikipedia tells me that squash are native to North America, likely starting out in southern Mexico.  However, the gourd is part of this family of plants and we know that in the Bible, Jonah sat under a gourd plant around 767 B.C. Perhaps gourds were cultivated in the Middle East but not summer squash.  Jonah was in rather a bad mood under that gourd plant, can you imagine how mad he’d have been if he knew what he was missing in yellow squash?

We know that the Cherokee cultivated squash extensively, along with beans and corn.  While those native people chose to do their farming on fertile, lowland soil isn’t it remarkable how similar their vegetable choices were to those of our own ancestors?

Of course all the early people enjoyed varieties of winter squash that would keep in a root cellar for months and provide a family both additional flavors as well as much needed nourishment after the growing season ended.  In reading a little about this whole family of foods, I was thrilled to learn that most any of the dark-orange colored varieties of winter squash can be substituted for each other.  That could certainly put a new spin on pumpkin pie.  I’ve added winter squash to my garden list for next year; maybe I can expand my own appreciation for squash while sharing more about winter squash with you.

My family always says that we can survive the winter if the potato crop is good.  I suppose squash never kept anyone from starvation but if you’ve ever wintered on rough-grub of salted pork, potatoes and cornbread then you sure would welcome those little yellow summertime blessings.

Yellow Squash rolled in Home-Ground Cornmeal

Yellow Squash rolled in Home-Ground Cornmeal