Sunday, October 23, 2011

Science Sunday - Squash

Science Sunday

For Science Sunday this week, the science themed link-up hosted by Adventures in Mommydom, we turned to Alton Brown, our favorite kitchen scientist, for a couple of lessons about squash.

First off we watched the episode of Good Eats entitled "Squash Court", to learn all about winter squash - the kind of squash we have in abundance right now. Then, we followed it up with a viewing of "Squash Court II", to learn about summer squash. The second episode was really the most useful to us, as Mr. Brown not only explained the Algonquin origins of the name of the fruit, but also presented us with a physical demonstration of the make-up of a plant cell, and what happens when it is exposed to a salt brine drawing out the water stored inside.

It's a pretty interesting, and delicious looking experiment. You can check it out yourself at the link above. The demonstration also goes very nicely with another squash based experiment from Vicki Cobb's Science Experiments You Can Eat, which I had already planned to carry out with the children.

Cobb's experiment deals with the cellulose in the cell walls of the squash, and how it can be broken down to "soften" it. Generally, we use heat to break it down, but Cobb suggested that adding an acid to the equation might speed up the process.

The experiment involves setting up three pots for boiling cubed pieces of squash. In one pot the squash is boiled in plain water, in another vinegar is added to the water, with baking soda in the third. The squash can be checked every minute or so after the water is brought to a boil, to see which pot of squash softens first.

I liked the idea of the experiment, but wasn't so sure about mixing three pots of boiling water with six children in a tiny kitchen. Since we've already seen the effects of heat on squash several times over the past week or so, I decided to set the experiment up another way.

Yesterday morning, I placed three pieces of squash on the counter for the children to observe, one in an empty bowl, one in a bowl of water, and one in a bowl of vinegar.

As you can see in the pictures above and below, by this afternoon the squash in the empty bowl had the texture of a dried out piece of sponge.

The squash in the bowl of water had almost the same texture as when I had first placed it in the water.

Meanwhile, the squash in the vinegar had turned all mushy, and was starting to fall apart.

So apparently, an acid alone will eventually break down the cellulose in the cell walls of the squash.

Needless to say this was not a science experiment we could eat, but I did save plenty of the rest of the squash for far tastier, if less scientific, experiments of my own. Though at this point, I'm still far from winning more the most minuscule of battles in this year's squash war.

It's great to be a homeschooler.


Ticia said...

Now I'm going to have to check out Alton Brown's show. I loved the show "How'd That Get on My Plate" from Food network, but it's discontinued and I can't find the old episodes anywhere so far (need to look again). But this could be another interesting one to add into the mix.

Christy Killoran said...

I love Alton Brown!

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

Hmmm.... I wonder how will the squash boiled with vinegar or baking soda taste in the end. Interesting science bit though!

MissMOE said...

I'm off to tivo Alton Brown now.