squashesYes, these. I told you about them yesterday and how they have reached out and strangled my whole garden like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. They are apparently another example of the old Seed Bait and Switch that I fall victim to every summer. The scam usually happens when I attend one of the various seed festivals around Sonoma — especially this one. I buy into the romance of getting seeds from some little Mom and Pop concern that sells me hand-sorted seeds in an unmarked envelope. I’m told what the seeds will grow, but unlike commercial seeds, there are no pictures on the front of the packet. I have to take the vendor’s word for it that the seeds will give me what they tell me they will. As you can imagine, I’ve grown a lot of mystery vegetables in the three seasons I’ve had my Sonoma garden. Which could be a fun thing if it introduced me to new and different vegetables. But usually the mystery vegetables are so exotic, I not only can’t find out what they are, I have no idea if and when they are ripe and what to do with them if they are. I think the seed vendor promised me these would be Acorn and Butternut squashes. Clearly they aren’t. And there appear to be several different varieties of whatever they are.

I had my first breakthrough in identifying them yesterday. As DJ and I were trying to cut back some of the Cambodian jungle that my garden has become, we started hauling these things out of the overgrowth. Using an internationally recognized unit of measure, each of these things is at least one “terrier” both in size and weight. At some point, we noticed that the construction crew above us, who were finishing up for the day, were taking a few relaxing moments to laugh at DJ and me struggling with these giant vegetables. At least the White guys were laughing. The Hispanic guys were gazing at them longingly. I issued the challenge that anyone who wanted one could take it, provided they could tell me what they were and how to cook them. (An interesting sociological note: Hispanic construction workers don’t cook, at least as deduced from their reaction when I asked for their recipes.) But several guys assured me that their wives could do wonders with my mystery veg. A couple of huge specimens were carted off. I’m still waiting for my recipe report.

Alert to the fact that I needed to look to the Latino community to get the real scoop here, I asked my cleaning professional — who by a stroke of luck was at the ranch today — for more information. Apparently, my mystery veg were so perfect, Dube was sent into a complete rapture that lost her all her English. But I did get an identity: Calabaza. A quick consultation with Professor Wikipedia alerted me to the fact that Calabaza are a family of squashes from the family Cucurbita. And are natives of Meso America. Which is why Dube, from Guatemala, was transported. She was waxing poetic in Spanish, but I did get that I could roast these or make a stew out of them and I should have picked some of the blossoms to make quesadillas. Dube left with two huge squashes in her car and a promise to bring me back a recipe. In the meantime, I found one on Epicurious, although I’d rather have one from an authentic source.

Clearly, the answers to my questions are to be found, not just with the Latino community, but with those who are closest to Central America and the old Mayan empire. Sure enough, one of my ranch workers, Jesus, originally from Chiapas, couldn’t resist posing with one of my Calabaza and posting it up to Facebook. It seems the post is practically going viral South of the Border. Which makes me feel much better about my mystery squash now that they are achieving Internet fame.

Yes, Jesus has a very serious expression here. In lower Mexico and Central America, apparently Calabaza are serious business.

Yes, Jesus has a very serious expression here. In lower Mexico and Central America, they take their Calabaza very, very seriously!

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