I love hot peppers and I grow many different kinds from Bolivian Rainbow to Thai to Aci Sivri. They seem to do well for me even though I live in northern Minnesota with its warm days and cool nights. That might be the secret, actually, according to the reading I’ve done on them. One pepper I really like is called pepperoncini, a type grown in Italy. It is a long, yellow-green, medium hot pepper that is often pickled in vinegar.
Tonight, I planted 30 seeds of pepperoncini but had room for 6 more seeds in the flat. I remembered having a partial packet from last year and so began a search of my seed boxes. After three searches I decided to call it quits. Maybe the packet was lost between some shelves or maybe I didn’t have a partial packet left over to begin with.
But it wasn’t a totally wasted effort. While digging through last year’s seeds I found a packet of zucchini seeds for the variety “zucchino de fiore” or “flowering zucchini”. The description on the back says it is “one of the most sought-after ingredients” in Italian cuisine. And it is. But the use of squash flowers for food goes back further.
All true squash (genus Cucurbita), originate in North and South America and were very early on used by Native Americans. Remains of plants assignable to Cucurbita pepo, which includes pumpkins, certain gourds, and zucchini squash, have been found at Guilá Naquitz cave in Oaxaca, Mexico and date between 10,000 to 8000 years ago. The use of the seeds of some wild species for food may have been even earlier.
Flowers too were eaten by Native Americans. In the book Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden the use of squash flowers for food is described. Buffalo Bird Woman was Hidatsa and lived in what is now called North Dakota in a village along the Missouri River. The Hidatsa were known for centuries before the Europeans arrived as gardeners and grew huge amounts of squash, beans, corn, sunflowers, and tobacco. In the book she tells of collecting and preparing the squash flowers for food. She says, “Besides our squashes, we also gathered squash blossoms, three to five basketfuls at a picking; and they were a recognized part of our squash harvest.” The flowers were cooked fresh and some were dried for winter. Flowers were boiled in water with some fat, parched corn, or beans. Another interesting thing she describes is using immature winter squash fruit like we use summer squash. Winter squash is C. maxima which includes Hubbard squash while summer squash is C. pepo which includes zucchinis and most pumpkins. I find zucchinis very bland but the young fruit of C. maxima has texture, color and flavor not present in any zucchini. They must be picked a day or two after the flower begins to wither and be no more than three inches in diameter. Incidentally, her winter squash were variable in coloring and patterning much like mine which include some Lakota squash in their genes in addition to jardale, kuri, and a miniature hubbard. The crossing was random but intentional.
The first batch of hot pepper seeds and bell pepper seeds have been planted. There will be more planted later this week as room on the starter bench becomes available. So I didn’t find more pepperoncini seeds but I relocated a batch of flowering squash seeds and found one more vine to cover my cucurbit trellis this summer along with the cucumbers, cucuzzi, and trombolina.