Originally published August 17, 2011.
If any food can be described as ephemeral, it’s squash blossoms. They’re only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can’t get them at grocery stores, only farmers’ markets and neighbourhood gardens.
Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female. The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems. The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower. This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.
Generally there are more male flowers than female. The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females. Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating. I don’t. I hope it’s not a safety thing. Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem. Even so, it’s worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.
The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible. (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans. Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)
While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried. They can also be stuffed.
Below are some blossoms from a zucchini plant. The female flowers are distinguished by the tiny zucchinis attached to their bases. The male flowers have their characteristic long, slender stem in tact.
In the final picture below the blossoms are filled with a homemade cottage cheese (something my ancestors would have called “clabbered milk”) mixed with green onions and a bit of lemon juice. I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.
The batter is just skim milk with flour and salt. The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350°F. You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot. Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel. Season and consume immediately.
August on a plate: