Author Archives: Suzanne Lis

Respect your Ellmores!

For those of you who have perused our blog, you can see that we have come across several obstacles in the development of our glorious garden. In our last blog post, Mae documented our battle (and subsequent triumph over) the powdery mildew on our squash. HOWEVER, we didn’t mention that our squash also had these little swarms of white flies that emerged when you disturbed the plant. They also seemed to be spreading to our tomato plants. They didn’t bite, they just landed (disturbingly) on your clothes and hung out for a while before returning to the jungle-like squash.

Anyway, I was confused as to whether the white flies were related to or separate from the powdery mildew on our squash. Yet again, Googling was not very helpful, and so I contacted Professor George Ellmore in the biology department at Tufts. Professor Ellmore has been extremely supportive since the inception of the student garden, from providing many a word of wisdom to letting us start the plants in the greenhouse. I hope he will forgive the sad attempt at a pun in this post’s title.

This is what he wrote:

I can share some of how I’ve seen gardens behave in this area. Overall, vegetable plants tend to look good in June and July, but after they produce lots of tomatoes, zukes, or other produce, they weaken and become more susceptible to insects and fungi. So an August garden tends to look a bit bruised, no matter how well you treat it. August also brings humid warm weather that favors fungal growth just when the vegetable plants are slowing down. In other words, the fungi and insects you notice are completely normal for this time of year in a productive vegetable garden.

Squash has certain mildews that attack it (after it has produced some squash), and tomato plants will resist fungi from May-July, but finally show it in August. While the tomato leaves may curl up and go yellow and brown, the *tomatoes* will continue to ripen, so do not remove the plants until you harvest all the tomatoes you want.

The insects you describe sound like whiteflies. They are small clouds of white gnat-like flies that are annoying in the garden, but tend NOT to cause significant harm. Whiteflies are attracted to tomato and eggplant (both members of the tobacco family:  Solanaceae).

When these things happen in my vegetable garden, I let it go. The plants are in decline, but still yield good tomatoes. Whiteflies will disappear when nights get cool.

Don’t you just love when knowledgeable people tell you exactly what you needed to know? Thank you, Professor Ellmore!

So to the people working on the garden: keep enjoying the delicious tomatoes while you can! We have already begun the transition into fall; the last time I was at the garden, Mae and co. had planted brussel sprouts! Yum.

If you would allow me to rhapsodize for a minute, I am so gratified to have worked on the garden this summer. Despite the temperamental fences, gargantuan tomato plants, powdery mildew on squash, misplaced garden maps, the shed that took forever, or “BUNNY RABBITS AAARRRGHHHH!!!!!”, this summer has been full of discovery and challenges for all of us. Many of my favorite garden moments this summer were simple; on the way back from Davis Square, I would often stop at the garden, perch on the bench, eat a tomato (or two), and simply savor the rare quiet and solitude that our garden offered amidst the rest of bustling Somerville. So THANK YOU to all my fellow gardeners and the gardening goddess Mae Humiston for their hard work and dedication! Here’s to many productive seasons to come!

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Conundrums posed by a Costata

If you saw this in your fridge, what would YOU call it?

That was exactly the question I was faced with when I brought home this unidentifiable Godzilla back from the most recent Harvest Day. My housemates asked me, “Suzanne, is that a zucchini in our fridge? Why is it so huge?” I was also under the impression that it was a zucchini, albeit a monstrous one, until I gave into the doubts in my mind and did some research.

What did I find? At first, not much. There are only so many ways that one can type “huge green zucchini-like vegetable name cooking help!” into Google without getting the same results. But soon, I found a likely candidate on a specialty produce website: “Star-Spangled Squash.” Cute, right? Like ours, it is so called because when you slice the squash vertically, it produces star-shaped rounds.

But that name wasn’t very helpful. There were very few recipe suggestions, and all I got was a lot of Fourth-of-July related websites. Finally, I think I figured out what our vegetable was: Costata Romanesca squash. Beautiful, right? This vegetable is an Italian heirloom variety, and it seems to straddle the line between summer squash and zucchini (maybe someone reading this could clarify things?). Also, according to www.harvestwizard.com, it is considered the “best textured and the best tasting” of the summer squash! Even when mature, its rind is never bitter, and the flesh has a velvety, nutty flavor. As I was already two steps into my Curried Zucchini Soup preparation, I decided to push valiantly on with my newly discovered vegetable. And so, I present to you:

Curried Costata Romanesca Squash Soup

(adapted from chef Susan Beach and TheKitchn)

Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 pound Costata Romanesca squash, washed and diced into 1-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, homemade or good quality canned
2 cloves garlic, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 cup whole milk or half and half

  1. Make a roux by melting butter in a small saucepan. Mix in flour and stir over medium-low heat until golden brown and smells like roasted nuts. (For a gluten-free version, skip the roux and cook 2 medium peeled and quartered potatoes along with the zucchini.
  2. Place the following ingredients in a soup pot: zucchini, onion, broth, garlic, curry, bay leaf, cayenne, white pepper and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Remove the bay leaf. Add the roux to the soup.
  4. Remove the vegetable mixture from the heat and CAREFULLY puree with a hand immersion blender or a standard blender in batches.
  5. Return the puree to the remaining broth. Stir in milk or half and half.

To serve, reheat the soup over low heat, and drizzle each portion with a few drops of chili oil, if desired.

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I imagine that this recipe could be used as a template for getting rid of any excess vegetables (yeah, I see you CSA-ers out there!). It is healthy, relatively hands-off, and it just gets better overnight when all the flavors meld together. Mmmmm. Plus, the curry will make you sweat and cool you down!

But it is important to note that just one vegetable presents countless questions. Even after I figured out what it was, I am still wondering: “Are the Star-Spangled squash and the Costata Romanesca squash the same thing? If so, is the former just an Americanized name of the latter? Why haven’t I encountered this before? And what does heirloom really mean?” Our mystery squash also brings up the importance of cultural preservation of produce and trending in food. Just as the açai berry was pulled from the depths of the Amazon into a worldwide marketing phenomenon, what will be next?

And now for the next exotic vegetable that our lovely garden has thrown at us: Chinese yellow cucumber. Anyone have any experience with these? We only have one (so far), but I am already intrigued by the descriptions and possibilities. Until then, cheers!

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