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The Mystery of the Calabacita Squash

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As a gardener and a cook, I’ve been searching for a particular squash seed: the Mexican Calabacita. It was the original squash used to make the famous ‘Calabacitas’ dish of squash, corn, onions and green chili here in New Mexico.

Most of us now use zucchini to make this savory dish because of its availability, but here at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, you can buy the Calabacita squashes in early summer and then by midsummer, they are gone. They are little green squashes with soft skin and teeny weenie seeds-too small to harvest. I researched it and found that the squash originally came from Mexico but not a lot of information is out there on it. No seed catalogs have it. None of my gardening friends have any seeds. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Then two years ago while on a vegetable gardening forum here in Santa Fe, I met another gardener and during the course of our conversation after the forum, the mysterious Calabacitas squash came up. I told her of my difficulty finding the seeds. She told me she had gotten some Calabacita seeds from another farmer whose family had been here for generations. She offered me a few of the seeds. Finally I would get some seeds! So we emailed each other and I sent her an envelope to send me some but they never came. I went by the Farmers Market where she sells produce but we kept missing each other. Another season passed and still no seeds.

This year, on the last day of my season as ‘The Tomato Lady’ at the Farmers Market where I sell heirloom tomatoes, I went by her booth and mentioned maybe I could get some of those seeds for this upcoming season. She said, “Why not buy one of the squashes now?” When she pointed them out, I said, “That’s one of them? It doesn’t look anything like the ones earlier in the season,” and she remarked, “Yes that’s one of them. They are actually a type of WINTER SQUASH. We just pick them when they are really young and immature and have no seeds.” That explains why I could never get any seeds from them. That is why we don’t see them later on in summer-if you let it keep growing; it will become a mature winter squash. There were several there at her booth with different colors. Some were green with orange stripes and some were salmon-colored with green-grey stripes. She said there really wasn’t any difference in the taste. I ended up with the salmon-green striped one. It weighed about 15 lbs and had a squat oval shape outside and lovely orange color inside. It smelled like a cross between a cucumber and a melon.

I got the seeds and roasted the squash. To roast it, I quartered it and rubbed some oil on it and put it on a cookie sheet. Then I added a little water in the bottom of the pan so it wouldn’t dry out. I put it in the oven at 350° and placed some aluminum foil loosely over it so it would not burn. It took about an hour to cook. Afterwards, I put the flesh in a freezer Ziploc and will later cook squash lasagna with béchamel sauce.

So Calabacita squash can be used to make Calabacitas in early summer or later in the fall used in winter squash dishes.

Here is a recipe for Calabacitas from New Mexico:
1 lb or more Calabacita squash or any summer squash, cubed
3-4 ears fresh corn cut off the cob or 1 can corn
1 chopped onion
cumin to taste
Hatch green chili to taste
Sauté the onion, add the squash and corn and sauté till tender.
Add cumin to taste. Add Hatch green chili to taste.

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