Bumble Bees

bumblebeelavender

Bumble bees, native to the United States, not like the humble honey bee that was imported in the 1600s from Europe are in danger. As with all 250 species of bees, they are in dire trouble and dying off. That is why I delight when my backyard is a bevy of buzz with all types of bees. I try and plant as many bee friendly plants as possible.

A bumble bee is differentiated from the carpenter bee by having a fuzzy, hairy body. They live in underground colonies, and die in the winter, except the queen. The wings beat 130 times a second. They pollinate plants that are eaten by humans, birds and insects, like cotton, apples, cherries and tomatoes. Unlike the aggressive yellow jackets, they will not attract and sting you. While I took the photo, they were all oblivious to me, intent on the lavender.

Plant native plants in your backyard and leave empty underground nests that have been vacated by rodents free for them. And of course plant more bee friendly plants in your yard. And please don’t use chemicals, your plants love coffee grounds and your roses will flourish with them.

Squash Blossoms

While walking the other day with my friend, Alicia Strickland, she took this photo of squash blossom. When I lived in Mexico squash blossoms where lightly grilled and served as an incredible taco just yummy…. below Alicia has done some research on squash. Thank you Alicia!

 

In North America, squash is loosely grouped into summer squash or winter squash, depending on whether they are harvested as immature fruit (summer squash) or mature fruit (autumn squash or winter squash). Gourds are from the same family as squash which in the South are often crafted into bird houses. Squash is a New Worldfruit native to Mexico, the oldest archeological remains date back to 7000 BC. Their importance as a food crop evolved during the pre-Colombia era in the Americas.

Squash was one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops. This is an excellent example of polyculture, using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, thus avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture that could then become susceptible to pest and disease infestation as in the potato famine in Ireland.

Squash blossoms are edible flowers, raw or cooked. Both summer and winter squash blossoms can be battered and fried in a little oil for a wonderful taste sensation. Harvest only the male blossoms unless the goal is to reduce production as the blossoms of the female produce the fruits. Macho blossoms are fragile, their shelf-life brief and yet despite these two liabilities, their better qualities, flavor, appearance and textural favor have afforded the Macho blossoms culinary appeal. The blossoms are faintly fuzzed, feather light, tissue-paper thin and once mature the broad and pointed flower petals close inward. The blossom’s coloring is vibrant orange at its tip, with variegations of gold and green to its stem end. Their flavor is subtle, yet true to squash in all notes, slightly sweet and reminiscent of corn, grassy and succulent, suggestive that the blossom carries with it a large percentage of water weight.

 

Because summer squash is immature, they are considerably lower in nutritional value than their winter counterparts. Generally, there is little variation in nutritional value between varieties. The peel is where many of the nutrients hide, so never peel summer squash.

 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

 

Use your favorite bread or meat stuffing or use the ricotta/mushroom stuffing below. Or skip the stuffing, and simply batter the blossoms and fry. The batter must be chilled for 30 minutes. Or it can be made in advance and refrigerate it for up to two days. If it is too thick after refrigeration, add a few drops of water to return to original consistency.

 

The Batter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fat-free chilled milk, beer or water

 

The Stuffing
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoon mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoons fresh basil or parsley, minced
16 large squash blossoms, washed
Canola oil for frying

 

1.     Prepare the batter first. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in milk, beer or cold water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days.

 

2.     Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. In a bowl combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, mushrooms and basil. Open the blossoms and spoon about one 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each. Avoid overfilling the blossoms. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

 

3.     Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds.

 

4.     Briefly dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. Add only as many blossoms at a time as will fit comfortably in the skillet. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly.

 

5.     Sprinkle with salt, if desired and serve immediately. Serves 4.