Brassy grasshopper days and sapphire sky cricket nights; summer moon and stars gleaming on warming earth on the family farm where ripening can be scented in the air if you pay attention. Look under the broad, scalloped leaves and find a gaggle of golden geese hiding in the green shade. The crooknecks are ready! Give your thanks, sing your song, dance your dance. Pick some now and fly with them, still full of the sun, into the kitchen. From farm, to skillet, to table, you will not taste richer seasonal-ness than in the first fruits from your crookneck squash plants. Properly prepared, they are nutty, tender and melting. Put away your seasonings, but for a pinch of salt, and enjoy these summer squash as they are: basic and perfect.
On our farm, we have a tradition of making the simplest possible dish with the very first crooknecks. We call this recipe Gold Coins. You can’t replicate it with anything but home-grown, just-picked crookneck squash. Even farmers’ market squash will not taste the same; it is too old by the time you get it home. No, you’ve got to take the little yellow squash, still bristling with tiny hairs, and quickly cut it into circles of an even thickness.
Heat up a cast iron skillet and coat it with a few drops of organic sunflower oil. Like squash, sunflowers are an ancient Native American food and, to my mind, sunflower oil is just the right pairing with crooknecks. Don’t over-do. You only need a little oil to quickly panfry the squash. When the oil is hot, add the squash. Don’t stir too frequently. You want to see the tiniest bit of golden brown appear at the edges of the squash and your fork will easily pierce the circles when they are done. By my clock, it takes about 45 seconds to cook a small batch of Gold Coins. They should be just tender – never mushy! Sprinkle with salt and serve at once.
We’re serving our crookneck squash with an equal portion of fresh-picked snow peas, similarly pan fried but with a little home-grown garlic and chives and a sprinkling of chopped, roasted cashews. Stir fry the garlic, chives and peas in hot oil until the peas are just glossy. Add a couple tablespoons of water so that the peas cook an extra couple minutes in a broth of their own. Toss in the nuts and a little salt and serve. Between your Gold Coins and your snow peas, you’ve got a lunch that explains what ‘freshness’ means with every mouthwatering bite. This is not a poster in a fluorescently-lighted supermarket, claiming that old produce is fresh. This is not a package, a jar or a can pretending to be fresh. These crooknecks, grown by you, are the real thing.
I am so thankful for summer squash. The scalloped pattypans from deep gold to palest jade green, shaped like pottery sculpted by human hands. The long, furry zucchinis, dark and flavorful. And the darling, goose-like crooknecks, the first to come to life each year. How good is the gift of seeds, passed on to us by unnumbered generations of Indigenous farmers who cultivated and saved the creamy seeds of squashes in the highlands of Peru, the storehouses of Mexico and the earthen jars of North America. How good is this Earth, in which we can plant a single seed and see it burst into leaf, blossom and abundant fruit, each seed creating hundreds more for planting next year. When we live alongside squash plants, we are amongst man’s very old friends and I think if you try, you can feel this good nature coming from them to you. And the eating! Who could ask for anything better tasting than the delicate savor of a crookneck squash? I am so glad summer is here again and that I am here to enjoy this best time of eating in the whole round year. I am truly thankful.
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