Apart from the pepo species with its zucchini, pumpkins, patisson, patidous and the amusing spaghetti squash, there are still two other species that contain treasures: the species maxima and the species moschata. They are even considered to be the the best squashes.
The species maxima
This is the best of all. It is the floret of squash maxima and there are many varieties. The maxima are easy to cultivate in the moderate climate of the Centre and North of France. You can easily distinguish them from their cousins, the moschata species thanks to their leaves that are little lobed, almost round and especially thanks to their peduncle, big, round and thick and covered with fibrillations that give them a spongy appearance. These squashes exist in all sizes in all shapes and with varied colours.
Some of the most famous varieties:
The bright red pumpkin of Etampes
It is undoubtedly the best known due to the anteriority of its cultivation in the garden. In the last century and until the 60s or 70s, it was very often cultivated. It is true, that it is a magnificent squash, with its brilliant brick red colour and of good size. However, we nowadays know that its taste doesn't match its appearance. Very largely supplanted by other varieties that appeared about thirty years ago, its soft flesh is not very tasty and is generally used in soup with milk or cream.
The blue pumpkin from Hungary
As its name suggests this pumpkin comes from the East. It is one of the favourites of squash lovers. Round in shape, a little ribbed, it is light in colour with a nice blue-green and its flesh is thick, firm and orange. Its size is not excessive which is of a great advantage when you do not have a large family. It weighs about 3 kilos on average. It is not too demanding to cultivate, provided it is fed correctly at the beginning and with a scanty but regular watering. It is not often present on market stalls, where you find more well-known varieties. However, its seeds are not hard to find.
The black squash of Eysines
This one does not go unnoticed! Not by its size, but by its brownish skin covered with corky warts. These warts are very variable in number: sometimes scattered, sometimes covering the whole squash. When you see it, you can wonder if it is really edible. Go straight for it: it is delicious with a special taste, close to the nut, which makes excellent gratins and soups. If you have some left, keep it as a decoration: it will intrigue many of your visitors.
We do not need to present it anymore. It is part of these squashes that appeared twenty years ago and it quickly imposed itself by its taste between nut and like hazelnut, its reasonable size, its flesh being well suited to many preparations like for example: puree, gratin, soufflé, soup etc. Some people also eat it raw and grated. It only has one downside you have to be well equipped to cut its very hard bark. Of Japanese origin, there are many sub-varieties: Uchuki Kuri, Red Kuri (the best) French pumpkin, bigger and pear shaped, Blue Kuri etc. It is an important source of vitamins and trace elements, which can be enjoyed in the heart of winter.
Marina di Chioggia
Of dark green colour and blistered with large warts, this is a squash that doesn't look great. It requires space, at least 2 sqm, and can reach a respectable size: 5 to 6 kg. However, when it is found in a kitchen garden, it certainly indicates the presence of a gardener, expert in squashes. For it is without any doubt the best of the maxima species. Not particularly demanding neither on the field conditions nor on the climate conditions, it requires the manure of a mature compost to help it reach maturity in October. You can try to curb its expansion by cutting it, but then you will have larger squashes. It has a dark orange flesh, thick and sweet, and can be kept without any problem in a temperate room until February – March. If you have a very large specimen, you can cut the flesh into cubes and freeze it for later use.
Once the vegetables have been harvested, we organise ourselves to find out how to cook them. Our vegetable tops (leaves) often end up with compost or garbage, but do you really know that many tops can be cooked?
The tops of radishes, beetroots, broccoli, kohlrabi, fennel, turnips or carrots will bring originality to your dishes.
The tops are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, but be aware not all can be eaten. So we avoid that the tops of an eggplant, peppers and other tomatoes because the leaves of solanaceae are highly toxic.
In order to cook the tops we have first to sort them and to remove the yellowed or damaged leaves before washing them. The same is true for branches that are too big or too hard.
With the tops you can make delicious soups, purees or omelettes, gratins, quiches or you simply can enjoy the tops in salads.
Give free rein to your imagination.
Ingredients for 4 people:
• The tops of 2 bunches of radishes from the garden (but also works with other tops)
• 1 table spoon of olive oil
• 1 onion
• 1 clove of garlic
• 1 big potato
• 1 litre of water
• Salt of Guérande
• Optional: celery salt, cream
Sort the radish tops and put the most damaged ones on the compost; wash them in cold water and drain them.
Wash and peel the potato, the onion and the garlic clove. Slice garlic and onion, cut the potato into small cubes.
Put the oil to heat in a large saucepan. Fry the chopped onion and the garlic for a few minutes. Add the tops and let them fry on high fire for 5 minutes while stirring. Add the diced potato, stir and cover with water. Add salt without hesitation, because the tops are tasteless. Personally I love to add a little celery salt, but it is no obligation.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Mix everything and adjust the spice. For the great gourmets you will add a spoon of fresh cream before serving the dish.
As temperatures start to rise again, insects make their journey home to our gardens, albeit a little numb from the winter cold. We have a lot of prejudices a priori concerning many insects we meet on a daily basis, such as the reportedly dangerous hornets and wasps, the inoffensive bumblebees and the very useful bees. Contrary to what one may think, you should be aware that all of these insects are useful and are not as dangerous as you may believe.
The domestic bee (honey bee): "Apis mellifera"
• 11-13mm, thickset, hairy, and black stripes on its abdomen.
• Not aggressive (unless you approach its nest).
• It is only interested in our food when there is a shortage of nectar.
• It loses its stinger when it stings, and then dies. The male bee is called a drone (larger than the female) and does not sting. Its sole purpose is to fertilize the queen.
• Protected species.
The wasp: "Vespula vulgaris" or "Vespula germanica"
• 11-18 mm, it has faint hairs and is bright yellow with defined black stripes.
• It has much defined shape, from which we get the expression "wasp-like".
• It is a nuisance at the end of summer, when there are too many wasps in the nest and it therefore seeks food on our plates. It is particularly attracted to meat.
• It feeds off small insects, for which it is valuable to the ecosystem.
• Wasps change nests each season.
• Only fertilized wasps (the queens) will survive the winter; the rest die.
The hornet: "Vespa Crabro"
• In effect the hornet is a large wasp; it is three times as large with an average of 35 mm. It is slightly hairier, and its head is more orange, with brown legs.
• Its noisy flight and large size make it more frightening than the others; however, its sting is no more dangerous than that of a bee.
• It can cause a lot of damage to orchards as it is very fond of fruit.
• It regulates a number of insect species as it eats flies, wasps, caterpillars, etc.
• As with wasps, hornets change nest each year.
• Contrary to what one may think, it is unobtrusive and not very aggressive, it is even more timid than the bee.
• It is an endangered species in Europe.
• Beware of the Asian hornet! Unlike the "Vespa crabro", we must fight the "Vespa velutina", as it attacks domestic beehives.
The bumblebee: "Bombus terrestris"
• Around 22 mm, hairy and thickset, it is black and yellow with white and orange patterns.
• It also has a noisy flight which can be impressive.
• Bumblebees make their nest in a cavity and form a colony of several dozen bumblebees.
• Bumblebees are great pollinators; they are very important in the fertilization of numerous plant species.
• They are not aggressive and only sting in self-defence (in case of being crushed) or if the nest is under threat.
• Only the queen of the colony survives winter.
• The number is constantly declining, with some bumblebee species having totally disappeared.
And the poison in all of this?
It is important to bear one thing in mind: bees defend their honey against vertebrates such as badgers and mice, whilst hornets and wasps hunt insects to eat, which is why they don't lose their stinger.
The lethal dose 50 (the quantity of poison that leads to death in 50% of cases) teaches us a surprising thing, and puts an end to one of our assumptions:
- From bee stings: 6mg / kg (or 40 stings or 2,400 / 60kg)
- From hornet stings: 10mg / kg to 90mg / kg (or 154-180 stings or 9,240-10,800 / 60kg)
In conclusion, bee venom is 1.7 to 15 times more effective than hornet venom. It is therefore more powerful.
Some people have developed an allergy to these insects' venom. It should be highlighted that an allergy always develops after several stings from the same species, hence only those people who have already been stung can develop an allergic reaction to a new sting.
The Asian hornet: "Vespa velutina"
The Asian hornet is slightly smaller than the European hornet. It is also darker and only the end of its abdomen is yellow-brown. Its legs are bright yellow and its face is orange. The problem with the Asian hornet is the fact that it reproduces exponentially, and has a much greater need for protein than the European hornet. It attacks all insects, especially domestic (honey) bees.