In late autumn, we harvested our winter squash. It was a good year, and most of the squash had the opportunity to ripen fully, even the large Musquee de Provence, which are often still rather green by the time the first frosts arrive, had turned their slightly sickly looking dull pinkish orange colour. Our stocks are running low, now, so I thought I would review my list of favoured varieties.
As always, we were very happy with Sweet Dumpling, which gives a good crop of small, but attractive and tasty, fruits that are ideal cut in half and roasted, each serving one or two persons. The flesh has a pleasant nuttiness to it. Butternut squash is also hard to beat. The firm, orange, flesh is particularly sweet and the texture entirely lacking in the coarse fibres that some varieties, notably the larger sorts, can exhibit. From some sources, one might expect a poor harvest from anything but the latest F1 hybrid seed, but I have grown Waltham Butternut for several years now, and we have always had plenty of fruits, of very good size, which have not failed to ripen well. They do have a good start to the season, being grown on under cover in large pots before planting out as quite robust specimens, which gives them plenty of time to develop and ripen their crop. The texture and flavour have been excellent, just as one would want from a butternut squash, and, despite having relatively thin skins, they seem to store fairly well too. Both Sweet Dumpling and Waltham Butternut are firmly established on our list of favourite varieties.
From the success of the smaller sorts, I have to turn to the disappointment of the large Musquee de Provence. I have grown this variety for a few years now, and have mixed feelings about it. Each plant generally produces a couple of fruits, although these can be fairly large for a culinary squash; I still have one specimen weighing in at around 8kg. I dare say that it ripens rather better in Provence and that may well impact greatly on the quality of the fruits. Last season was the first time that they ripened fully before harvest, so I was hoping for great things. I was, though, disappointed to find that one of the specimens seems not to have stored well, even though we cut it not that long after harvest. The pulp around the seeds was quite wet, and there was an unpleasant taste to the flesh – so much so that we did not eat it. I know this is not how it should be; previous examples have had quite good flavour, although the flesh has tended to be a little on the wet side. None of the other varieties have shown any problem, and this year was not particularly wet, nor did I irrigate more than a couple of times, so I am fairly sure it is not a case of too much water. Although I want to like this old giant, which I have enjoyed cultivating, I have my reservations about growing it again. I still have two left, which appear from external appearance to be in perfect condition. If I am not delighted by what I find inside, it may be the end of the line for Musquee de Provence. I have little doubt that this variety can produce a fine fruit, but maybe it cannot do so under the cultural and environmental conditions of our plot.
This was our second season growing Marina di Chioggia. This can produce fairly large fruit, encased in a thoroughly ugly, thick, knobbly skin that, at least in some specimens, can turn form dull green to an unattractive brownish colour as it ripens. Its outward appearance, though, belies the fine pale orange flesh concealed beneath, which is without fibrous coarseness and has an excellent flavour. The tough skin seems to do a great job of keeping the flesh in good condition during storage. The only drawback in our limited experience thus far is that it has not produced a large crop. Overall, though, I still consider it well worth growing for the high quality fruits and will happily leave it on the list.
We tried two varieties for the first time last season: Burgess Buttercup and Tonda Padana. Both performed sufficiently well as to warrant another try, but not without reservation. Although the fruits of the Burgess Buttercup were of good quality, they did not seem to crop particular well. Tonda Padana cropped modestly, producing good sized round fruits, with their characteristic ribbing, but the flavour and texture were not quite as fine as expected, the flesh being a little coarse with some fibrous material. I have, though, used several to make good soup. Although neither excelled in this last season, I still think they may be worth trialling once more, particularly the Burgess Buttercup.