With its rugged coastlines, rocky ridgelines and long frigid winters, New England presents significant challenges for home gardeners. Yet gardening thrives across the region, as hardy New Englanders select tried-and-true vegetables which have proven their worth down through the generations. No homestead in the northeast would be complete without these three core vegetables that form the heart of New England spring, summer and winter cuisine: rhubarb, summer squash and blue hubbard winter squash.
Rhubarb (Rheum X hybridum) is a perennial vegetable plant grown for its spring harvest of stalks, which can be stewed as a savory vegetable or added to pies and jams as a tart counterpoint to early strawberries. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension recommends purchasing rhubarb crowns from a local garden center, and planting them at least 3 to 4 feet apart. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder, so dig a large, deep hole before planting and fill it with a mixture of rich topsoil, sand and manure or compost. The plant can be divided every three or four years, and the compost renewed during division.
The large flat heart-shaped leaves are considered poisonous due to a high concentration of oxalic acid, but they can be composted or used as mulch. Vermonters freeze rhubarb stalk; these turn to juice when they are thawed which is used to create a New Year's Eve punch.
Blue Hubbard Squash
Blue hubbard squash (Curcurbita maxima) is a winter squash, which grows on long-trailing vines. The squash have a warty, hard green-blue shell and can grow much larger than most field pumpkins, weighing in at 30 pounds or more.
New Englanders traditionally break the squash open by dropping it on tile or stone, then roast or boil the pieces and use it in place of sweet potatoes or pumpkin in savory and sweet dishes. The Cornell University Cooperative Extension recommends a new cultivar, the "Baby Blue Hubbard" as a better pick for home gardeners, as its vines are less rambling and its fruit weighs in at a more manageable 4 to 5 pounds.
Summer squash are a set of varieties of the species Curcurbita pepo grown for harvest at the small soft-skinned stage. These include zucchini, patty pan and the most popular New England choice, yellow crookneck squash. Summer squash produce an enormous volume of vegetables on modest sized vines, and bush varieties are available for smaller-space gardens. All produce abundantly in New England's cool, short summers, and their produce can be used as a lightly steamed vegetable, grilled, stir-fried or grated into quiches and quick bread recipes. Summer squash blossoms are also edible, and can be stuffed for an elegant canape.