Some of the best things in the world happen by accident; Post it Notes, potato chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and my discovery of Tatume’ squash. While three of these accidental discoveries yielded vast quantities of money for their inventors, my discovery yields pounds and pounds of a fresh, flavorful, and versatile squash.
Between work, grad school and the remodel of my house, my garden has not received the time and attention it normally gets. Since it was a little late in the spring when I built my potager, I decided to speed things up a bit by purchasing established vegetable plants for my garden. I bought my plants from the left over’s of the Texas A&M Horticulture Club’s Annual Plant Sale. I bought several varieties of tomatoes, egg plant, watermelon, and fennel. When I went looking for squash though, there were only two types left; white summer squash (we call it UFO squash in our house) and a variety that I had never heard of called Tatume’. I grabbed the last summer squash and two of the Tatume’.
I soon realized that Tatume’ was no normal squash. In a little over a week it has sent out vines that were over six feet long! Everywhere a node lay against the ground, it rooted and sent out more shoots. In two weeks time, half of my garden was over run by these two aggressive plants. I was afraid it would cover the entire garden but I was comforted by how lovely it was. The vines were covered with beautiful big yellow flowers. Once it flowered, the growth rate decreased. I decided to do some research and see what I had gotten myself into.
Most of the squash that we grow come from the species Cucurbita pepo. Tatume’ is a variety of this species. C. pepo is a native of Meso-America and archeological evidence shows that gardener’s there have been growing varieties of it for the past 8,000 to 10,000 years. In America, squash is generally divided into two categories based on when they are harvested. Summer squashes like yellow crook neck, zucchini, and pattypan (UFO) are harvested in their immature state. Immature squash have a soft skin, seeds and flesh. Winter squash like butternut, spaghetti, and acorn are simply squash that are allowed to ripen fully on the vine before they are harvested. Winter squash have a thick hard skin and their flesh is generally firmer and sweeter than summer squash. Tatume’ is one the rare varieties of squash that can be harvested as either a summer or winter squash.
Tatume squash is an open pollinated variety (heirloom variety) so you can save the seeds from year to year. The fruits are round or oblate in shape. Their skin is stripped green and they resemble a small watermelon or pumpkin in there immature form. It is best to harvest Tatume’ when it is about the size of baseball. If left to mature, their skin will become a mottled deep green and they can grow to almost the size of a soccer ball.
Tatume’ appears to be the squash of many names. Many seed catalogs list it as Tatume’ or Tatuma but I have also seen it listed as round zucchini and Mexican zucchini. In the markets of Mexico, it is most often called calabacita (little pumpkin).
Whatever you call it, it is a very versatile and flavorful little squash. It is a staple of Mexican cuisine. Mexican cooks use this squash in soups, breakfast dishes, casseroles and as a stand alone side. This year, my wife and I have used it in lieu of yellow squash in all of our squash recipes. We have fried it, baked it, boiled it with onions and made it into a casserole. We even harvested and sautéed the blossoms. However, our favorite thing about Tatume’ is the way that it cooks on the grill. Tatume’ is more flavorful than yellow squash and its flesh is much firmer. Its round shape and firm texture allows it to be cut into thick round patties that are perfect for the grill. A little EVOO, garlic salt, season salt and fresh ground black pepper make for a simple but delicious summer side dish.
Tatume’ is a squash variety that posses all of the traits that make squash one of my favorite summer vegetables to grow. It is hardy and productive. Its long vines produce a fabulous show of big yellow flowers that draw bees into the garden. It is tasty and versatile in the kitchen. My accidental experiment with Tatume’ has convinced me to add this to my keeper list. I highly encourage you to try it in your garden as well!
*This article was published in the June 2010 issue of “Hort Update” (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/jun/)