Close your eyes and imagine going gently back in time: five years, ten. Fifteen years, twenty. Thirty. Thirty-five . . . now when you open your eyes, you’re at a farmer’s market by Cleveland and you spot a young man selling squash and other fresh veggies. He looks remarkably like Farmer Lee Jones—and, in fact, that’s exactly who you see. He’s selling produce at a farmer’s market because the Jones family had lost their farm through a combination of high interest rates and a devastating hailstorm.
A woman walks up to him. Her name is Iris Bailin, and she is a classically trained chef who recently returned to the United States from Europe. She is in search of ingredients that were easy to find overseas. In the United States? Not so much. This chef then asks Farmer Lee if he could sell her the squash blossoms that grew on their squash.
Lee was puzzled because they would throw those blossoms away! When he went home, he told his dad about the request but Bob, Sr. just laughed. Nobody ate those! Right?
When Lee followed up with Iris, he told her that his father wasn’t interested in supplying her with squash blossoms—and then he sneaked her a few. She then praised the flavor and quality of the blossoms—to the point where other people at the farmer’s market came to Lee’s truck to see what the heck was going on.
Iris wasn’t thrilled with the small quantity of squash blossom but offered to pay 50 cents apiece for what Lee had brought—and she wanted a whole lot more. Lee was floored because this was brand new territory for the Jones family. He couldn’t believe what Iris was willing to pay for what they threw away—and he was also struggling to figure out how she would cook with them. Plus, he was totally astounded with the fact that she wanted more!
When Lee returned home and reported on what had happened, Bob, Sr. decided to alter the course of the farm and their business for good. From that point on, The Chef’s Garden has grown specialty items for chefs, many that they simply can’t find elsewhere, while also serving home cooks like you.
Squash Recipes and Cooking Techniques
“Squash and the squash blossom are the perfect representation of the farm,” says Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson, “because the whole plant is great.”
Here are some of the ways that we use squash and their blooms:
- Summer Squash Tart Recipe
- Baked Ricotta Squash Blossom With Squash Attached
- Seared Summer Squash
- Squash Blossom Quesadilla
- Squash Blossom Tomato Herb Focaccia
- Summer Succotash with Squash Blooms
“You can also use the stems,” Jamie says. “They resemble celery. The leaves, which are fibrous, can be blanched or juiced to offer up a beautiful summer flavor profile.”
At The Chef’s Garden, the squash that’s grown is typically smaller than what’s found in grocery stories. “So, it’s usually briefly cooked,” Jamie shares. “In and out. You can steam or blanch or sauté in a pan with a bit of water or stock. Squash is a sponge in that it drinks up what you give it. So, for example, if you cook it with butter, be careful how much you use.”
One of Jamie’s favorite ways to cook zucchini is to create long strips with a mandoline slicer. Marinate them and then grill them long enough to pick up the smoky flavor, warming it up rather than actually cooking it.
“Nice. Memorable. Delicious. Enjoy!”