We are always on the lookout at Terra Firma for some new vegetable that meets our criteria for addition to the team. Of course it has to grow well here, taste good, and offer value to our CSA subscribers. Variety is nice, but not if it sits in your fridge or on your counter and doesn’t get eaten.
Seed catalogs are full of items that don’t meet these standards. The best example is the vegetables that are an “unusual” color when raw but then turn green when cooked: Purple broccoli and purple beans, for example. Then there are the varieties that just make you wonder. White carrots come to mind. Is there a niche market of people who wanted carrots without so much Beta Carotene?
Winter squash is a big crop for us, and it plays a critical role in your boxes during the wet season since it is harvested in the fall and stored. We hope it also plays a big role in your kitchen, given its wide culinary range in both sweet and savory dishes. There are dozens and dozens of varieties of winter squash available, yet most of them are very similar to each other once cooked. We primarily grow Butternut because it produces abundantly and stores well. It’s easy to prepare in the kitchen and is reliably sweet with a semi-creamy texture.
Delicata is our other primary squash variety, mostly because it is so unique and different from other squashes. It doesn’t produce nearly as abundantly as its cousins, but it is so good that it commands a higher price that makes it economically viable nonetheless. Unfortunately, it does not store well and thus has a much shorter season than other squashes.
Japanese varieties of winter squash are quite distinct both visually and culinarily from both butternut and Delicata — they actually belong to a different family entirely. Unfortunately, over the years we have found them to be highly susceptible to pests and diseases. They also tend to sunburn in the heat. Several years back we tried a promising new variety that literally melted down in the barn just a few weeks after we harvested it.
Three years ago, I heard about a new hybrid squash that was a cross between a Japanese Kabocha type squash and a butternut. It was promised to be “bombproof” against bugs and a very vigorous grower. The seed was also extremely expensive — about 10x the cost of other squash seed. The seed company gave me a small amount to plant a trial.
This new hybrid squash, called Tetsukabuto (Tetsu for short), turned out to be pretty impressive. The plants grow almost twice as tall as other varieties, and spread out over a very large area. They have a dense canopy of giant leaves that protect the dark green fruit from burning in the hot sun here. They produce a large amount of fruit, which the bugs seem unable to damage, and it stores well through the winter.
In the kitchen, the Tetsu is pleasantly distinct from other squashes. It is moister than other Japanese varieties, yet denser than butternut with a darker orange color. The squash is scalloped in a way that allows you to cut it into slices for roasting, although the inedible peel is so thick you may need a Sawzall — likely the reason it resists insect damage so well.
Generally speaking, I don’t trust new varieties that perform well for a single year. Sometimes it’s just a fluke. Other times, the seed company discontinues the variety if it is not popular enough. If they perform well for three years, then we welcome them into our “family” of crops. Long term subscribers know this doesn’t happen all that often.
2021 was our third year of growing Tetsu. It did great in 2019, not quite as well in 2020, and great in 2021. Having proved itself, we’ll plant a larger amount in 2022.