Small (But Mighty) Wonder

I’m guessing spaghetti squash is an oddity for most people, something they see at the grocery store and wonder how it can be cooked and eaten. And even in the garden it is somewhat of an oddity that many gardeners are not familiar with. That’s a shame, because I have found them easy to grow, if somewhat rambling. There are bush varieties available (Tivoli is one), though most varieties have long vines and require a fair amount of space.

Botanically it is a winter squash (Cucurbita pepo).  But in the kitchen I think it tastes more like a summer squash. And nutritionally they are more like summer squash, being more watery and less starchy than say a butternut or acorn squash. But then they also have a hard rind and keep much like a winter squash. Confused yet? It’s no wonder they get little respect – they have an identity crisis!

Spaghetti squash gets its name because of its stringy flesh, which can be separated after cooking into long strands that resemble spaghetti pasta. Many people like to use it as a pasta substitute, since it is much lower in calories. One cup of plain cooked spaghetti squash has around 40 calories, with 2 grams of fiber, 1g of protein, and negligible fat. Compare that with the 200 calories found in one cup of cooked spaghetti pasta and you can see why the squash is a dieter’s delight.

Most of the varieties of spaghetti squash, and the ones I usually see in the grocery, are quite large and often weigh in at 3-4 pounds. But a few years ago I tried a variety called Small Wonder that promised smaller, 1-1/2 to 2 pound squashes, and I’ve been growing it ever since. The smaller size suits our household much better than the larger ones. The name is misleading however. While the squashes themselves might be smaller than the standard type, there are LOTS OF THEM! And in my garden, the vines meander all over the place.

I planted 2 seedlings in one “hill” in early May, and about 2 months later I had the first ripe squash. Since I started the seeds indoors, I got about a 3 week jump on the usual 75-80 day maturity of this variety. And this year I planted them on the edge of the garden, where they could vine up the deer fencing if they liked. At least that was my plan. The squash had a plan of their own however!

I’ve been finding the squash all over the place. The one below is over by the caged tomatoes, 15 feet away from the start of the vine.

This pair was hanging out two rows over, with the summer squash. I told you they had an identity crisis!

This one escaped the boundaries of the garden and is growing in the no-mans-land between the plastic deer fencing and the metal fencing that keeps out rabbits and other gnawing pests.

This green one escaped also.

And the vines aren’t through producing yet. Here’s a female blossom that will open in a day or two.

Ack! Here’s another potential spaghetti squash. They’re taking over! At least this vine got the memo about climbing on the fencing.

The 15 squash in the photo below weighed around 24 pounds, with an average weight of 1.6 pounds. The smallest weighed just over 1 pound and the largest was 2.1 pounds. There are at least 6 more out in the garden that aren’t quite ready to pick yet. They could add another 10 pounds or so to the total yield.

That’s a pretty good deal from a packet of seeds that cost $2.45 in 2008 and has given us three years of wonderful spaghetti squash!

There are a lot of good recipes around for these squash, but we usually do a fairly simple treatment when serving them. One way we like to cook them is to cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then add a little water and bake cut side down, covered, in a baking dish for about 50-60 minutes at 375F. When tender I add a little butter, honey and minced ginger, and return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes. Then I fluff up the strands with a fork, scoop out the flesh and serve.

baked spaghetti squash

It’s also nice cooked plain then tossed with a little pesto sauce. The squash can also be microwaved, baked, or boiled. However you cook them, spaghetti squash are an interesting and tasty addition to your kitchen repertoire. Give them a try sometime, or better yet, try growing them in your garden.

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