The sun is peering over the horizon. My hot coffee pairs well with the cool summer morning. It would be a good morning to read a book on the porch and watch the day unfold, but my mission is time sensitive. Soon the sun will warm the air and my window of opportunity will close. I walk through the dewy fields and unfold spiky leaves the size of my head to reveal my prize: the large golden squash flower.
Cucurbita, which includes all edible squash and pumpkins, have a rich culinary history in the Americas that extends far beyond pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Squash was domesticated in Mesoamerica (Southern Mexico and Guatemala) 8,000-10,000 years ago. Squash was domesticated before corn in the region, making it one of oldest agricultural crops in the world.
Along with corn and beans, squash quickly spread north and was a staple in the diets of American Indians across the continent. It's no wonder the trio, corn, beans and squash, became known as “The Three Sisters.”
There are two kinds of squash flower: male flowers that are attached to the plant only by a stem and female flowers that are attached to the plant via a tiny fruit. Squash blossoms open at night to attract nocturnal squash bees that, unlike honeybees, like to get their job done before the heat sets in.
It takes many visits from the squash bees to successfully pollinate a single flower. If enough pollen isn't transferred from the male flower to the female stigma, the fruit aborts and a squash never forms. Therefore, it is important to harvest the blossoms only after the pollinators have had a chance to do their job.
While all squash and pumpkin blossoms are edible, today I am harvesting summer squash. Here at Joseph Decuis we prefer our summer squash small, with the flower still intact (the best of both worlds.) I select the largest, blemish-free blossoms to be delivered fresh several times a week. Chef Adam carefully stuffs each blossom with cheese before they are lightly fried in tempura batter. The flower is garnished and served promptly (see recipe below). What better way to honor this ancient vegetable?