The leaves are rapidly changing and it's starting to smell like fall here. So it was a bit of a surprise when Dan came in from the garden with a watermelon yesterday. Melons usually conjure up thoughts of summer picnics, but with the short growing season here in northwestern PA, we're just seeing ripe ones in our garden now. The one we had with lunch yesterday was small, about 8" across, and round like a ball instead of the longer ones usually found in grocery stores. Perfect for two or three people! It tasted like a stolen bit of summer. Last year we didn't have any luck with watermelons, but we planted 3 varieties this year and 2 kinds of muskmelon. If it stops raining, I just might have to go see what other surprises are lurking under all those big green leaves, but I know this was a hard summer for them and I'm not sure all my varieties did well enough to bear fruit.
I do most of the catalog shopping for the garden in late winter. Dan knows what varieties have been successful here in years past, and we rely on that knowledge quite a bit. However, something unusual always catches my eye, and I like to try something different every year. We always find a little room for my experiments, and if they do well, we'll make them regulars in the garden. Past successes have been a variety of Swiss chard with colorful stems and an open pollinated ornamental corn. This year, I stumbled across the giant pink banana squash. The description stated that they could grow to be up to 50 lbs each, so we figured if they weren't delicious, at least it would be a lot of garden food for the pigs! They are named because the squash is long and tapered at the ends, kind of like a banana if it were straightened out. They turn a salmon pink color when ripe, and are called a pink banana because there is a blue variety out there too! The banana squash did quite well for us, the ones we've picked and taken down to the stand so far have been big, but in the 12-25 lb range. That's still a lot of squash! I cooked one yesterday, and they have that rich, almost sweet taste of a good winter squash. I sliced into it and was happy to find they are easy to clean out, hollow like a pumpkin but not so gooey. They have lots of big plump seeds, and although I saved these ones to plant next year, next time I'd like to try baking them. They look like they'd be delicious baked with a sprinkle of salt & spices, just like a pumpkin seed. After cleaning, I sliced my squash into several pieces and baked it until it was tender. Then I took 2 pieces and removed the skin and mashed it up, kind of like mashed potatoes, but wonderfully orange-yellow with a bit of butter, nutmeg and a pinch of brown sugar. Mmmm!! The rest I cubed and put in the fridge...I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, I may make soup or I may freeze it for later. I've seen recipes that say the banana squash make better "pumpkin" pies than real pumpkins, but I' not much of a baker. I may have to get my mother in law, who is the best baker I know, to try that out and see if it's true. These squash are supposed to keep well also, so we'll see later this winter how that works out. I know that they will be back in our garden next year too!