What’s the deal with squash blossoms?

Last weekend I was home at my parent’s house in New Jersey when my mother insisted on giving me a tour of her garden for the third time this season. Despite receiving regular garden photo updates through the lens of her flip phone, she said I had to come outside to see the squash blossoms that had formed on the yellow crookneck summer squashes. As I reached down to pick the largest and prettiest squash blossom, she grabbed my hand and in a panicked voice asked, “If you pick the blossom, will the squash die?” My first instinct was to respond with a simple “no” in a voice that implied she was being ridiculous and overreacting, but the truth was I had no idea. And so it dawned on me: what’s the deal with squash blossoms?

Mom’s yellow crookneck squash blossoms

Because squash blossoms are typically deep fried and prepared with a simple cheese and herb blend, I assumed that they killed their host vegetable considering the price tag that usually accompanies this standard dish. Upon further research (read: google searches), the hefty price tag is not due to its sacrificial nature, but rather the care needed to maintain the blossom after it is picked. The fruit will continue to grow when you pick its blossoms, as long as you aim for mostly male blossoms, as the female ones produce the fruit. The males are needed to pollenate the female blossoms so do not pick all of them. They are thicker and hairier than the females and are usually more fibrous.

As expected, it is best to consume the fruit as close to harvest as possible. When consumed the same day, eat raw in a salad lightly or bake with bread crumbs and seasoning. Squash blossoms are often deep fried because (besides the fact that most things are delicious when fried) the flower will wilt almost immediately and lose its vibrant color.

So go ahead and pick a few of those (male) squash blossoms and resist the urge to pick the females. My fresh ricotta recipe is great with squash blossoms as long as its completely drained and as dry as possible. Mix with herbs like basil and parsley and finish with sea salt and lemon juice for a delicious summer snack.

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RECIPE: Fresh Ricotta Cheese

This recipe and process is so simple, I’m almost embarrassed to be devoting an entire post to explaining how to make ricotta cheese. With that said, fresh ricotta is so much better than the store-bought brands, that if I can change the life of just one cheese-lover with this post, it will all be worth it.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

[yields about 2.5 cups]

– 1 gallon whole milk

– 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar

– salt, to taste

Method

1. Slowly heat whole milk over medium heat in large non-reactive pot. Use a wooden spoon to periodically check the bottom of the pot to make sure that the milk is not scalding. Add salt if desired.

2. Using a thermometer, heat milk until it reaches about 180 deg F. Turn off the heat and add white vinegar. Stir a couple of times to distribute acid then let it sit for one hour. Milk will begin to curdle.

Ricotta cheese curdles

Ricotta cheese curdles

3. After one hour, strain milk/cheese through a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve using a slotted spoon. Cheesecloth is preferable if a dryer product is desirable since you can wring the product to drain all excess liquid.

Straining cheese through cheesecloth

Straining cheese through cheesecloth

4. Refrigerate cheese for up to one week.

NOTE:  Buttermilk or citric acid (or any form of acid) can be used instead of white vinegar but I have found that white vinegar provides the least amount of acidic flavor in the end product. If you are making the ricotta for a dessert application, citric acid may be desirable to obtain a particular flavor. Generally, use 1 quart of buttermilk or 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid per gallon of while milk.