This weekend as we were driving to Atlanta, Larry and I stopped and visited his nephew in Stockbridge, Georgia. Bill and his wife Kris are some of our favorite people, and we visit them as often as we can. Both avid gardeners, Bill and I love swapping stories. Fascinated by unusual plants, Bill’s always looking for something exotic to grow and this visit brought back another summer’s star--a kind of Asian squash—a hybrid Tetsukabuto.
This squash was about the size of a small pumpkin. The outside skin was zucchini green with tan stripes and prominent bumps. Although these squashes had no beauty to speak of, the parent plants made up for their ugly offspring by being extremely prolific.
That summer, we arrived just in time. The front porch was covered with Tetsukabuto.
“Bill, what on earth are those things?” I’d asked.
“They’re Asian squashes,” he grinned. “How many do you want?”
“Whoa, not so fast. What do you do with them?”
“Well, we don’t know. They’re kind of like pumpkins. Our neighbor made a pie with one I gave her and used the same spices you use for pumpkin pie. It was good. They’re supposed to keep indefinitely as long as they don’t freeze. How many you want?”
“I’ll try a couple of them,” I said. “They sound interesting. I’ll go ahead and put them in the trunk, so I won’t forget them.”
“Don’t you worry,” Bill assured me. “I won’t let you forget them.”
I carried two of them to the car and stashed them in the trunk. I planned to search for recipes on the internet when I got home, but for a while I put the squash out of my mind and went about enjoying the weekend.
When I got home, a miraculous transformation had occurred. Those two squashes had become ten or twelve. I even had two in the back seat. In spite of Bill’s protestations, I suspect that he performed that miracle. Nonetheless, I had to find out how to cook those things because I’ll not be guilty of wasting good food, not back then, not now.
Once at the computer, I clicked on Google and typed in Asian squash. I found all kinds of pictures and descriptions, none of them even close to the mutated pumpkins we’d temporarily stored out under the oak tree. After looking at squash, pumpkins, and even melons until my eyes blurred, I gave up and consulted my cookbooks. No luck there either. Finally, I decided to experiment.
Working with my biggest and sharpest cleaver, I struggled for twenty minutes to cut this wonder into two pieces. I scooped out the seeds, which looked remarkably like pumpkin seeds. Then I turned the two pieces open face down on a cookie sheet and stuck them in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and a half. Afterwards I scooped the flesh out, stirred in a generous dollop of brown sugar, and topped it with chopped pecans and bits of butter. I baked my concoction another twenty minutes. The dish was delicious—somewhere between pumpkin and sweet potato.
“Are you going to cook the rest of those things?” Larry asked me in late October that year, pointing to the Tetsukabutos. “Remember they can’t freeze without spoiling, and cold weather’s coming.”
And so, I cooked them. I thought about substituting them for pumpkin for Thanksgiving, wondering if anyone would notice. Probably not, if I overpowered the natural taste with all those spices that we overpower pumpkin with.
And up in North Georgia, Bill was reading brochures and seed catalogs. Grinchily grinning, he was bent over his computer exploring websites like evergreenseeds.com. A neon green light—or is zucchini green--glowed from his eyes and the computer screen. What would it be next summer? Maybe some edible amaranth or a nice patch of tasty edamame. What about some succulent pei tsai? In the meantime, I and many of his neighbors, friends, and family were still trying to finish off his bumper crop of Tetsukabuto. Heaven help us all if he ever plants something that grows like kudzu.