Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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I know there as many as 100 different varieties of squash grown each year with some being dubbed winter squash and others being called summer squash. But, being southern, the summer varieties are pretty much all I grew up with. Yellow (both straight and crooked neck) and a zucchini here and there. As far as winter squash goes, the pumpkin would have to be the most popular, but unless it’s in a pie, I prefer a little butternut squash over pumpkin and I’m just beginning to appreciate the spaghetti squash.
But, let me get back to the summer varieties of the veggie since were are knee deep in the harvest season of this wonderfully versatile item.
Growing up, and even now into my senior-adult years, I suppose my favorite way to consume squash is what we always refer to as stewed. You know, the kind where you take yellow squash and dice it up, throw it in a pan with a heavy dose of onions and even a decent amount of bacon grease (you know you saved some) and allow it cook down until everything is tender, sweet and just slightly caramelized. Yep, that and a piece of cornbread and a slice of tomato is plenty for a meal if you ask me.
But, I have also grown to appreciate other dishes as well. One family favorite (with the exception of myself) is zucchini and tomatoes cooked together. The idea is to dice up the zucchini, throw it in a pot with an equal (or just a little more) portion of diced tomatoes with juice and a medium sized onion diced up in the mix for good measure. Of course, there is the obligatory dollop of bacon grease (did I mention I save mine, and did I also mention I’m over 50?). Cook it slowly until everything is tender and almost falling apart. I’ll pass on this version of a summer squash dish, but it sure is a hit with some of my other family members.
I’m not sure why I prefer the more popular yellow squash over zucchini. I think it may have something to do with the fact that my parents didn’t really grow the zuke in our gardens until I was old enough to get out of working the field. So, it never was a staple at our table and I never really developed an interest in it.
Looking into the health benefits of squash, I actually was pretty amazed at just how much this vegetable can help with a wide array of health concerns.
For one thing, as with most vegetables, you’ll discover they are filled with vitamins and very low in carbohydrates. Squash, in general with all varieties, are rich in vitamins A, B6, C, folate, magnesium, fiber, potassium, phosphorus and riboflavin. If you don’t believe that can be a boost for your body, look up those vitamins and see just how positive their impacts are on your body and health. Squash is also rich in manganese which helps to boost your bone strength and helps to process fats and carbohydrates. That alone is worth trying the oddly-shaped vegetables.
When it comes to your health, I’ve always been told that having a variety of colors on your plate is essential to keeping your body functions going good. A good dose of green, yellow or orange, red, blue or purple, and white and brown. And, just for example, I’ve included a portion of an article printed by Harvard Medical School to give you a few examples from each of those colors.
Red: Rich in the carotenoid lycopene, a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals that seems to protect against prostate cancer as well as heart and lung disease. Found in: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions.
Orange and yellow: Provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease. Found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn.
Green: These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). Found in: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)
Blue and purple: Have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins believed to delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots. Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage.
White and brown: The onion family contains allicin, which has anti-tumor properties. Other foods in this group contain antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms.
I hope you find some of this information helpful when selecting your vegetables either from the garden, the farmer’s market, the grocery store or the restaurant menu. Heating healthy is so easy in the summer, especially when you live in a rural area such as ours. Thank a farmer today. Your body will thank you.
Can someone please pass the squash?

If you find yourself with an abundance of squash this summer, count yourself lucky.

Cook’s Note: There are more ways to prepare this for consumption than you can shake a stick at. I’m passing along a few recipes you may find useful in taking care of your harvest.
Keep in mind, I’ve never prepared the squash relish recipe shown here. But, I wanted to include it because I have tasted it and it’s wonderful. And, it’s a great way to use up those squash by preserving them for later in a little different way.

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Cheesy Squash Casserole
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 medium yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sleeve buttery crackers, crushed medium to fine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a 2-quart casserole dish. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the squash, onion, and butter until soft. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan, Cheddar, and sour cream. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Place in the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle the cracker crumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly.

Summer Squash Relish
10 cups shredded yellow summer squash (about 4 pounds)
2 large onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
6 tablespoons canning salt
4 cups sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon each celery seed, ground mustard and ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pepper
In a large container, combine squash, onions, green pepper and salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain; rinse and drain again. In a Dutch oven, combine sugar, vinegar and seasonings; bring to a boil. Add squash mixture; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Carefully ladle hot mixture into six hot 1-pint jars, leaving 1/2-in. headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot mixture. Wipe rims. Center lids on jars; screw on bands until fingertip tight. Place jars into canner with simmering water, ensuring that they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil; process for 15 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Any unprocessed relish will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week.

A little extra love- And just to give the zucchini a little love, I’m throwing in this recipe as well. Ya’ll give it a try.

Parmesan Squash and Zucchini Sticks
2 zucchinis, quartered lengthwise
2 yellow squash, quartered lengthwise
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or sea salt)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and then lay an oven-safe cooling rack over the parchment paper. Rub the cooling rack with ½ the olive oil to coat and then set aside. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan, thyme, oregano, garlic powder, kosher salt, and pepper. Place the sliced zucchini and squash in a medium mixing bowl and drizzle the remaining ½ tbsp. olive oil over. Toss to coat evenly. Add the parmesan-spice mixture and toss to coat. Place the zucchini and squash spears onto the prepared cooling rack on the baking sheet. Sprinkle any remaining parmesan-spice mixture from the bowl over the squash and zucchini. Place into the oven and bake until tender, about 15-18 minutes.