This time of year, the produce filling up farmers market stands is emblematic of warm, sunny days. One of South Carolina’s brightest vegetables, summer squash, has made its annual debut — bringing a light sweetness to lunch and dinner plates once again. “South Carolina is a great producer of summer squash, and we are very proud of the produce grown in this state,” says Eric McClam, co-owner of City Roots Urban Farm. “Once summer hits, farmers across the state have a lot of squash. This is a vegetable that really shows the bounty of South Carolina produce.”
Summer squash is native to South Carolina and comes in a variety of curious shapes and bold colors. Yellow squash, zucchini and pattypan are the three main types of squash, but even those come in a multitude of varieties.
“We’ll be growing a couple of different types of pattypan including y-star g-star, and flying saucer, as well as other types of squash like the delicata squash and dunja zucchini,” Eric shares. Other summer produce like tomatoes, basil and okra complement summer squash for delicious and nutritious meal options throughout the summer.
How to Grow
In South Carolina, the moist soil and warm summer temperatures provide the ideal growing environment for squash. If you are interested in starting a meal from the ground up, growing summer squash is a great place to begin. Squash takes about two months to mature from seeds to full crop-producing plants.
For best results, plant summer squash seeds about 1 inch below the soil and give them plenty of sun and water. Although these vegetables can get quite large, squash are best picked before they reach full maturity while their seeds are still small and soft. Crooked neck yellow squash and zucchini should be about 6 inches long, and pattypan squash should be 5 inches in diameter. If matured much more, their seeds will become larger, and they will lose some of their distinctive sweetness.
How to Pick
If the do-it-yourself growing portion of preparing squash sounds like too much trouble, there are an abundance of local farmers who will be selling these vegetables from May through September. City Roots sells their summer squash at the Soda City farmers market in downtown Columbia on Saturdays, and their farm is open Monday through Friday. Stick to the same size dimensions listed above when choosing squash from a retailer. Look for a firm and smooth vegetable. Avoid produce with nicks and scratches as a break in the skin allows for introduction of diseases and spoiling. Eric also warns against choosing a squash that looks dimpled, as this indicates that it has become dehydrated.
How to Prepare
Be careful when preparing squash as their high water content causes them to be especially susceptible to deteriorate under prolonged heat. First, wash the squash thoroughly to remove any dirt or pesticides from the farm. If you enjoy the light, sweet natural flavor, they can be enjoyed raw, either grated over a salad or sliced into ribbons for a vegetable carpaccio.
For a hot dish, the firm but delicate vegetable is best prepared under high heat for a short period of time. Charing on the grill adds a dynamic layer to the squash’s creamy flavor, or simply broil thinly sliced squash in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning sprinkled on top. Another option is to toss sliced squash in cornmeal and fry in a cast iron skillet. The quick high temperatures of these cooking methods allow the flavor to be enhanced without compromising the texture.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl. Using a mandoline slicer, slice the squash into 1/16 inch coins. Place the slices in one layer in between paper towels to blot off as much moisture as possible. While the slices are drying, preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the chips on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray with a light layer of cooking spray and sprinkle the seasoning over the squash. Flip the slices and repeat.
Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the chips from the oven and flip. Turn the oven off and return the chips to the oven for 15 minutes to dry and crisp. This may take more or less time depending on the efficiency and insulation of various ovens. Once the chips are dry and crispy, they are ready to eat. Snack on these with sour cream or a mixture of 1 part lemon juice and 3 parts plain Greek yogurt. Makes about 70 chips.