Every other week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Your dinner could use a little flower power.
The term "squash blossoms" generally refers to zucchini blossoms, though almost every member of the squash genus (Cucurbita) produces edible flowers. Those flowers can be either male or female and if you're buying them at the farmers market, telling the different between them is simple: Pick up a punnet of blossoms and you’re getting male blossoms; buy baby summer squashes with blossoms at the end of them and you’re getting female blossoms.
The gender distinction doesn’t matter much if you’re buying your blossoms—they can, of course, be used in exactly the same ways. And both the female and male reproductive parts inside the blossoms are edible, as is the calyx, the green leaf-like base (1, pictured below) —though some people prefer to remove all non-petal parts due to their crunch factor.
On the other hand, if you’re harvesting blossoms yourself, it's important to be able to distinguish between male and female flowers. You’ll only want to harvest male flowers, as the female flowers are what develop into squash. Just don’t pick all of the male flowers; you’ll need to leave some for pollination purposes. If high school botany class seems like a distant memory, Food52er sfmiller helps you differentiate between the flowers—you won't even need to identify stamens and pistils. She explains: “Female blossoms have a fleshy ovary behind the flower, where it attaches to the vine; it becomes a squash if the flower is pollinated. Male blossoms attach directly to the vine and have a more hairy or downy appearance.”
More: Former Food52 Editor Nozlee Samadzadeh wrote a missive on plant reproduction that's not to be missed.
Whether purchased from the market or picked from your garden (which is best done first thing in the morning), you’ll want to use your squash blossoms quickly—ideally the same day. Like other edible flowers, squash blossoms have a very short shelf life.
To store them, Elizabeth Schneider recommends spreading them out on a towel-lined baking sheet, and then covering them with plastic wrap. She also suggests cleaning them by dunking them in a bowl of water a few times or holding them under the faucet and letting a gentle stream of water run into each blossom. I will confess that if I don’t see any bugs in the blossoms, I don’t always go to the trouble of washing them.
If you decide to take one of the most popular routes—to stuff the squash blossoms with cheese before baking or frying them—it's still possible to get creative:
Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use squash blossoms?
Photos by James Ransom