“Summer was everything good to eat… a thousand colors in a parched landscape…” – Harper Lee
As summer marches toward fall, we here in the South are still experiencing rather hot weather, most days. It does get tiresome, but I try to look on the bright side: Flowers are still blooming and vegetable gardens are still producing.
One of my favorite garden vegetables to eat this time of year is yellow crookneck squash, or as some of us commonly refer to it, summer squash. It has a mildly sweet flavor and tender texture that make it a welcome addition to my summertime recipe rotation.
I visited a local farm stand on Saturday, and happily purchased some green tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, and yellow squash, among other things, to take home for supper. In my excitement to cook with the fresh local produce, I pulled out one of my favorites from my cookbook collection, looking specifically for a new way to use yellow squash that I haven’t tried yet.
Squash is one of the first things that shows up in local farmers markets in June, and in many places, it’s still going strong in late August and into September. I enjoy experimenting with the prolific veggies each year, using them in salads, pastas, soups, stir-fries, and other simple summer fare. Of course, the way many of us in the South grew up eating summer squash was boiled with onions. Though I grew up with that method in our family kitchen, I never cared much for it, which is why I try to use the tender yellow veggie in other ways, and seek out ideas from vintage cookbooks.
Back in the 1990s, my mother-in-law gave me a cookbook entitled “Bell’s Best,” published in 1981 by Telephone Pioneers of America, Mississippi Chapter 36. The 785 pages are filled with all kinds of home-y recipes from women across Mississippi, from crunchy beef-bake casserole and broken glass torte (a jello dessert) to shrimp gumbo and berry cobblers.
The book was already a bit dog-eared by the time she passed down to me. Now, after years of frequent use in my kitchen, it’s really a mess. The binding has broken, so the book is now comprised of three separate sections. The cover is a mess, with spots of sauces splashed here and there. But I treasure this cookbook, not only because Susan gave it to me, but because I cooked from it for my young husband back in the early ‘90s, and later for our three sons, as well.
Nowadays I skim its pages looking for inspiration; common things to make in a new way, and even vintage recipes that I’ve never tried before. I perused the vegetable section of Bell’s Best again. There were eight recipes with squash as the star of the show. There were numerous others, of course, in which it played a supporting role, as in soups and casseroles.
The prevalence of various squashes featured in the cookbook made it clear that the humble vegetable (technically a fruit, but we’ll discuss that some other time!) has been a favorite of Southerners for many, many years. In fact, according to the New World Encyclopedia, archaeological evidence suggests that squash may have been first cultivated in Mesoamerica some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It eventually made its way up to North America, and it has been noted the Iroquois cultivated it alongside their corn and beans in the 1700s, calling the trio of vegetables the “three sisters.”
As I waded through the old cookbook, I came across a recipe for stuffed squash that included a filling of bread crumbs, cottage cheese, and eggs. I liked the idea, but wanted to change up the filling to make it more flavorful and interesting. Here’s what I came up with, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did at dinner tonight!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat