Squash blossom history + how to store, prep, and eat
by Kara Elder
July 08, 2020
Warm summer months mean summer squash, and summer squash means....squash blossoms! You can order these beauties for Thursday delivery (from Spring Valley Farm & Orchard, just outside of Romney, West Virginia) or for Saturday delivery (from Path Valley Farms in South Central Pennsylvania).
Before I tell you some tips for storing, cleaning, and cooking these delicate orange beauties, a brief review of a long history:
Squash originated in the Western Hemisphere. As chef and author Maricel E. Presilla writes in her book, Gran Cocina Latina, "In ancient archaeological sites from the highlands of Mexico to the arid coast of northern Peru, squash seeds are often found together with pepper seeds, desiccated corncobs, and beans, demonstrating that once these plants were domesticated, people chose to grow and eat them together." (Perhaps you've heard of the Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash?)
Cucurbita pepo, writes Presilla, were first domesticated in Mexico before 7,000 BC: "Remains of C. pepo found in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca are said to be 10,000 years old." Members of this species include summer squash, a.k.a. the thin-skinned and quick-cooking ones like zucchini, a.k.a. the ones whose blossoms we eat! The blossoms have a light squashy flavor which can you pair with similar delicate ingredients (soft cheese, olive oil, lemon) or play off with slightly stronger stuff like spicy peppers, funky sausage, or piping hot oil for frying.
"Squash blossoms are considered a delicacy, especially among the Zuni," writes Louis Ellen Frank in Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. There are male and female squash blossoms, but, explains the chef and writer, the sole purpose of the male blossoms is to pollinate the female blossoms. "...as long as several are left in the squash patch, the female blossoms can be pollinated by the bees and produce squash throughout the season." (Squash plants arguably produce more males than are necessary, so we may as well eat them, no?)
Storage, cleaning, and prep
Drape a paper towel around the blossoms in their container, then keep them in the refrigerator. The sooner you use them, the better they'll be. Use within two (maybe three) days.
To clean, you can either inspect carefully and wipe off any dirt and potential bugs you see (check inside the blossoms too) or you can give them a light rinse — including carefully opening the blossom to reach the inside — and shake to dry.
First, if your squash blossoms have long stems, you can eat those too. Either leave them attached or dice them for cooking. (Or slice them off and snack on them raw.)
If you want to be very particular you can take out the stamen (the pollen-producing thing inside the flower). Number 1 Sons resident pastry chef Steph uses large kitchen tweezers to remove the stamen, but cautions that this is kind of a pain and you can risk tearing the flower, so it's fine to leave the stamen in. You may read or hear that this can lead to bitterness, but it's not overwhelming. (I sautéed some blossoms with the stamens and noticed no trace of bitterness, but I also prefer my coffee black and drink amaro straight, so maybe take that with a grain of salt.) "It's more the texture I find a little incongruous," says Steph.
There are so many options when it comes to squash blossom cookery.
- Batter them and fry them. (There are several ways to do this so I'd recommend searching your favorite recipe sources and choosing from there! But do know that sourdough discard can be made into batter for frying.)
- Eat them raw in a salad — maybe a mixture of summer tomatoes and seared pattypan squash, with a pickle brine-based dressing?
- Make a delightfully squashy soup.
- Sauté with plenty of fresh herbs and add to pasta. (Maybe to this corn-sauced pasta!?)
- Put them on pizza or focaccia.
- Do you have some panela cheese and banana leaves? Top it with thinly sliced onion and squash blossoms and epazote, wrap it in banana leaves, and bake for 30 minutes. (You could probably use parchment paper or soaked corn husks — like the kind for making tamales — in place of banana leaves.)
- Add them to quesadillas! (If you need some fried quesadilla inspiration, also check out this video.)
- Warm oil or butter in a small skillet, toast cumin seeds and smoked paprika for 30 seconds, add squash blossoms and cook for about 1 minute. Serve with a soft cheese on the side, topped with toasted bread crumbs, or spread cheese over toast and top with your cooked squash blossoms. Either way, squeeze a little lemon juice over top, or garnish with the lemon slices from Sunny Dills.
There are so many ways to squash blossom. How've you been eating them? Questions? Comment below. :)