Squash Mix Squash

Squash (genus Cucurbita) are "Cucumbers" (Cucurbits or Cucurbitaceae) to the botanist, along with melons, gourds and actual cucumbers, To the agriculturist they are all "Vine Crops" and they are all fruit, but in culinary practice they are "vegetables".

Squash are native to North, Central and South America, and were unknown in Europe and Asia until about 1500. Seeds were carried worldwide by the Portuguese and other European traders, so squash are now familiar crops in most countries, and unique varieties have been developed.

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General & History

Squash have been cultivated in Central America for as much as 10,000 years, and in South and North America also from prehistoric times. They are one of the three complimentary crops Native Americans planted together, corn, beans and squash. This combination provides complete nutrition. In particular, squash seeds are high in protein, dietary fiber, niacin, iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus, and also a good source of riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid and potassium.

There are two broad categories of squash:
  • Summer Squash: - thin skinned squash picked before full maturity. They are full of pulp and seeds inside, never hollow. They do not mature into winter squash with a hard shell and thick flesh but rather turn yellow and either rot if not picked in time or dry out to a thin hard shell with seeds rattling around inside. Summer squash cook very quickly and are eaten skin-on. Some varieties are eaten raw in salads.

  • Winter Squash: - hard shelled squash, generally thick fleshed but hollow in the center where the seeds are. They are not eaten immature, but when mature and "cured" to further harden the shell. The shells are split, the seeds scraped out and the flesh is cooked, either cut from the shell or baked in the shell. Winter squash is often used in soup, either as chunks or as puré. The seeds of some varieties are used as a separate food product.

There are several species of squash.

  • C. maxima includes most winter squash, for example Hubbard, Buttercup and some Pumpkins. These are identified by their stems which are spongy and lack ridges.
  • C. pepo includes nearly all the common summer squash like zucchini and yellow crookneck, but also some winter squash, particularly the Halloween pumpkins (not pie pumpkins), spaghetti squash and acorn squash. The stems of these squash are deeply ridged.
  • C. moschata includes the butternut squash, the pumpkins used to make pumpkin pie, the Kabocha squash and a few lesser known varieties.
  • C. mixta is represented by the cushaw varieties.
  • C. ficifolia (figleaf squash), typified by the Xilicayote, it is the least grown of the squash species.

There are many more varieties of squash than shown here but these are ones commonly offered in Southern California markets. The purely decorative varieties that show up around Thanksgiving, mostly C. Pepo, aren't included.

Note on photos:   Some of orange fleshed squash are much more orange than shown in the photos. The Kodak digital camera used for many of the earliest photos did fine with the orange on the outside of squash but was totally blind to the orange of the inside, and its successor wasn't a lot better. The current Canon model in use here is able to see this orange color, so many of these photos will be replaced as time permits.

Acorn Squash   -   [#4750/51/52; C. pepo]
Acorn Squash

This popular winter squash is available year round throughout North America. It's Generally a very dark green with an orange patch where it rested on the ground (#4750) but White (#4752) and Gold (#4751) varieties are also recognized. See also the Carnival Squash which is basically a variegated acorn squash. This squash is popular for baking, stuffing and soup, but don't overcook or it can become mushy. The green photo specimen was 4-5/8 inches in diameter and weighed 1-1/2 pounds. Details and Cooking.

Ambercup   -   [C. maxima]
Ambercup Squash A cross between the Buttercup and Golden Hubbard squash, the Ambercup looks like a small pumpkin and generally weighs around 2-1/2 pounds. An exceptionally sweet winter squash, it's considered one of the finest for eating. This squash has an extraordinarily long storage life. I have not, however, seen it here in Southern California.

Banana Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Banana Squash Growing to about 30 pounds, this is one of the largest squash, so it's generally sold cut into pieces. The photo specimen was probably over 18 inches long and probably weighed around 16 pounds. As the name suggests it's a long narrow squash but is more likely pink, gray or even dark gray rather than yellow. The flesh of this squash is pleasant, sweet and actually quite tasty raw so don't overcook it.

Buttercup Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Buttercup Not to be confused with the popular Butternut Squash, Buttercup is related to the Turban Squash and has a bulge on the bottom but not as prominent as on the Turban. The photo sample, which exhibits the classic buttercup block shape with bulge on the bottom, was 6-1/2 inches diameter and weighed 2-7/8 pounds. This squash is not particularly meaty but it has very large seeds good for roasting.

Buttercup is not common commercially in Southern California but some show up in early October. It's a popular garden variety in other parts of the country. The flesh is creamy orange (much more orange than in the photo) and sweeter than most other winter squash but not as sweet as Butternut. It can substitute for sweet potato in recipes and is excellent baked the same as Acorn Squash.

Butternut Squash   -   [Butternut Pumpkin (Australia); C. moschata]
Butternut Squash

This medium size (2 to 5 pounds) bottle shaped winter squash has very sweet orange flesh. The flavor is described as somewhat like sweet potato, and it can substitute for sweet potato in recipes. It's one of the most widely available squash in North America, appearing in most produce markets and supermarkets all year. Details and Cooking.

Carnival Squash   -   [#3142, C. Pepo];

Basically a colorful Acorn Squash with similar characteristics but listed separately here because it's always sold as "Carnival", never as "Acorn". It should show a significant amount of green - if it goes all orange it's probably beyond its peak flavor. See Acorn Squash for further details.

Cassabanana   -   [Casbanan, Sikana, Musk Cucumber; Sicana odorifera]
Cassabanana Illustration

This "squash" doesn't actually belong here, being of genus Sicana, but as the only Sicana species we haven't anywhere else to put it, and it belongs to the same family and tribe as squash. It is grown in the hotter parts of Latin America and by Cajun people in the far south of the United States - it needs considerable heat to ripen. Unripe it can be cooked as a vegetable, but it is most valued for the ripe fruit, which can be up to 24 inches long. The ripe flesh is aromatic with a sweet melon-like taste. It is eaten raw and made into preserves. The ripe flesh is always orange, but the skin may be orange, or as purple as an eggplant depending on variety.   Watercolor by E. André 1890 US copyright expired .

Chayote   -   [Vegetable Pear, Mango squash (English); Christophene, Cho-cho, Tayota (Caribbean); Mirliton, Merliton (Cajun, Creole); Choko (Australia); Chouchou (Africa); Sayota (Philippine), Gayota (Latin America); #4761, Sechium edule]

Pronounced chy-O-tay, this vegetable is technically not a squash because it belongs to genus C. Sechium not C. Cucurbita but we put it here because it's normally called a squash and because there isn't any other place for it.

An odd squash it is - it looks like a giant seed. Each "squash" consists of a very large embryo within a smooth but very thin seed coat and a thick layer of flesh over that. A notch is left at one end through which the seed sprouts. Native to Central America, chayotes are now grown worldwide. It is quite popular in India and Southeast Asia but the two biggest exporters are Costa Rica (worldwide) and Veracruz Mexico (to the U.S.).

The photo shows two regular Chayotes, which average about 3 inches across, 4-3/4 inches long and weight about 9 ounces each. There is also a smaller rounder variety with a dark green skin that has better flavor but is very rarely seen here. There are also yellow varieties (Perulero) and very dark green ones (Guisquil) grown in Guatemala. The big 2 pound spiky chayote in the back has excellent flavor, but you won't see them in most regions. Grocery people hate them because they'll stab you right through bags and lightweight gloves. Food writers have been endlessly puzzled by early reports that the chayote was "like a porcupine" because they were unaware of this variety, or other spiky varieties from Central America. Shoots and tender leaves are also edible and are a common vegetable in Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand. The elongated root tubers are starchy and also edible.   Details and Cooking.

Chilacayote - see Xilicayote.

Cushaw Squash   -   [Gooseneck Squash, C. mixta]
Cushaw Squash

Cushaw squash are grown mainly by home gardeners rather than commercially - I have never seen them for sale in Southern California. They are characterized by a bulbous body topped by a long, often curved neck which may be thick, thin or bulbous. A number of varieties are available, white, green and striped, and some can grow to around 15 pounds. A green striped variety with deep orange flesh seems to be the most popular and is considered a good cooking squash.

Delicata Squash   -   [Sweet Potato squash, Peanut squash, Bohemian squash; C. pepo]
Delicata Squash

This small, very sweet winter squash is seasonably available in supermarkets in Southern California, The photo specimen was 6-1/4 inches long, 3-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 1-1/4 pound, a bit above average. The skin is cream color with green stripes but when over-ripe it is yellow with orange stripes. This recently reintroduced heirloom variety is one of the few winter squashes with skin thin enough to be eaten. It is similar to the Sweet Dumpling squash except for shape.

Eight Ball Squash   -   [Tondo di Piacenza, Round Zucchini, C. pepo]
Eight Ball Squash

Very Zucchini like despite its different shape. It's firmer and less seedy than Zucchini but interchangeable in recipes (unless shape is an issue). Not a standard supermarket squash but often available at produce markets here in Southern California. The photo specimens are quite dark, but varieties the same color as Zucchinis are also common.

Gold Nugget   -   [Oriental Pumpkin, C. maxima]
Gold Nugget Squash

A modest size winter squash ranging from 1 to 3 pounds with thick orange flesh. It turns from a bright shiny orange to a dull orange when ripe. These can be cooked whole (pierce a couple small holes into the seed cavity) or cut in half lengthwise and cooked cut side up. See Acorn Squash for method.

Hubbard Squash   -   [C. maxima]
A family of large squash weighing up to 30 pounds that are generally teardrop shaped or may be pointed at both ends. Originally these had a warty skin but most sold today are smooth. One warty version still sold is Chicago Warted Hubbard. These squash are very durable and can be kept up to 6 months if properly stored (50°F, 70% humidity, stems removed).

Gray Hubbard Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Gray Hubbard

This squash becomes available in September in Southern California. This variety is a little different from the ones I see in photos from other parts of the country in that it isn't at all pointy at the flower end. The photo specimen was 7-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 4-1/4 pounds.

Green Hubbard Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Green Hubbard

A friend of mine grows these every year in Altadena, CA, very successfully, but has to grow them in a big cage to protect them from deer. The photo specimen was 13-1/2 inches long and weighed just a shade over 7 pounds.

Golden Hubbard Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Golden Hubbard

This squash becomes available in September in Southern California in sizes from 3 to 20 pounds. It is quite warty and distinctly pointy at both ends. The photo specimen was 6-3/4 inches in diameter, 11 inches long and weighed 4-1/2 pounds.

Kabocha Squash   -   [Japanese Pumpkin (Australia / New Zealand); Fak Thong (Thai); Danhobak (Korea); Cambodia Abóbora (Portugal); Kabocha, Bobora (Japan); Cucurbita maxima]
Kabocha Squash 14e

This excellent winter squash was taken from Cambodia to Japan by Portuguese sailors in 1541. "Kabocha" is a Japanese corruption of "Cambodia". They may range from 1-1/2 to 8 pounds, but average around 2-1/2 pounds. Farms in California started growing them for export to Japan, but the Japanese only wanted the largest ones, so the smaller were sold in Los Angeles. Soon they were grown by many farms (seeds come with every squash) and are now one of the most common in California.

These squash are now grown as far afield as South Africa, Tasmania and Chile. Most of the crop from California, Colorado, Tonga and New Zealand is exported to Japan.   Details and Cooking.

Kamo Kamo Squash   -   [Kumi Kumi pumpkin; C. pepo]
Whole and Cut Kamo Kamo

This is the traditional squash of the Maori people of New Zealand, at least traditional since Europeans brought squash to that islands. It is a double duty squash, suitable as a summer squash when young, and as a winter squash when fully ripe. Ripe, it will have an extremely hard shell, and excellent keeping properties, up to a year under the right storage conditions. It is an excellent eating squash either unripe or ripe. The photo specimen was 5-1/4 inches diameter and 3-3/4 inches high, weighing 1 pound 9-1/4 ounces.

Marrow Squash   -   [Vegetable Marrow, C. pepo var. ovifera]
A summer squash related to the Zucchini grown in England. Unlike the zucchini it is more like a watermelon in shape but like the zucchini it is often allowed to grow way too large and can reach over 30 pounds. The flavor is rather bland so they are often stuffed with meat mixtures.

Mediterranean Squash   -   [Lebanese squash, kusa (Arabic), C. pepo]
Mediterranian Squash

Similar to Zucchini but lighter in color, shorter, less evenly cylindrical and slightly lighter in flavor but interchangeable with zucchini in recipes (unless shape is an issue). Its very common now in Southern California produce stores and while it comes in lighter colors the photo shows the variety common here. The largest of the photo specimens was 6 inches long, 2-1/4 inch in diameter and weighed 8 ounces.

Mexican Pumpkin   -   [C. pepo]
Mexican Pumpkin

This squash is grown in Mexico primarily for its large seeds (Pepita). These are very popular roasted as a snack, and essential in many recipes, particularly Moles (sauces). The photo specimen was 7-1/2 inches diameter and weighted 3 pounds 3 ounces.

Moroccan Squash   -  
Moroccan Squash

This was my favorite squash. Unfortunately, the grower I bought them from suddenly broke up with his wife and moved back to Chicago. I have not yet been able to find seeds for this variety. I have purchased them up to 8-1/2 inches tall and 8 inches diameter, weighing 8 pounds 10 ounces. They keep well and the thick, intensely orange flesh has excellent flavor.

Opo Squash
Opo - see Bottle Gourd (not a squash).

Pattypan Squash   -   [White Squash (Australia), scallop Squash, Custard Marrow (England), Custard Squash, pâtisson (French), Cymling, C. Pepo]
Pattypan Squash This common summer squash comes in regular light green, white and yellow varieties. Due to its shape it's often hollowed out and used for stuffing, sometimes with its own pulp mixed with other ingredients. This is a very tender squash with definite sweetness and I consider it among the best for use raw in salads and on vegetable plates. Its high ratio of shell to seed mass helps it hold together well when cooked. The photo specimen was 3-3/4 inches diameter, 1-7/8 inches thick and weighed 5-3/8 ounces.

Pumpkin is a name used loosely for any winter squash that is roughly spherical. All three of the major squash species have representatives that are called "pumpkin".

Pumpkin (C. pepo)
Pepo Pumpkin This winter squash is your Halloween pumpkin, bright orange and variously sized to around 25 pounds with shallow sutures and relatively thin flesh. Some of the smaller white pumpkins are C.pepo but the larger whites are C.maxima.

Seed catalogs say these are good for pies but professional growers, packers and pie manufacturers say absolutely no! The result will be watery and bland - hardly worth eating. The photo is of my Halloween pumpkin from 2006, taken in April 2007. It sat proudly on my front porch until the first week of June.

Pumpkin (C. moschata)
Moschata Pumpkin This is your pumpkin pie pumpkin. It's generally light tan or grayish on the outside but the thick, dry flesh is intensely orange on the inside. These pumpkins have deep sutures in the skin and weigh up to 20 pounds, but the photo specimen was 10-3/4 inches diameter, 6 inches high and weighed 11-1/2 pounds.

Commercial varieties include Dickinson (Libby's canned), Buckskin, Chelsey and Kentucky. Local varieties are popular in Mexico and the Caribbean. Mochatas are also popular in Japan.

Pumpkin (C. maxima)
Maxima Pumpkin These are the pumpkins you grow to win pumpkin growing contests. They can top 1400 pounds and growers are trying for a ton but the photo specimen was only 1004 pounds. The most popular contestant is Atlantic Giant, which is orange, but C.maxima comes in various shades of green, gray, yellow and white. Modest size maxima pumpkins are used for food in South America, but not much elsewhere.

Red Kuri Squash   -   [Orange Hokkaido, Baby Red Hubbard, Uchiki Kuri (Japan), #4774, C. maxima]
Red Kuri Squash

A hard shelled winter squash with firm yellow flesh. The flavor is mellow and described as tasting somewhat like chestnuts. The photo specimen was 5-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 1 pound 11 ounces. They are available year round but become common in Southern California produce markets in September.

Scalopini   -   [C. pepo]
Scalopini Squash

The name "scalopini" is often used as a generic name for patty pan squash, but more specifically refers to a very dark green hybrid variety that is lightly scalloped and quite high for a patty pan. It has a sweet, somewhat nut-like flavor, and a good texture for using raw in salads. The largest of the photo specimens was 3-3/4 inches diameter and 2-1/2 inches high, weighing about 8 ounces.

Spaghetti Squash   -   [Vegetable Spaghetti, C. pepo]
Spaghetti Squash

This winter squash variety is unique in that when cooked the flesh separates into crisp spaghetti-like strands. The example shown was about 8 inches long, 5 inches diameter and weighed a little over 4 pounds.

The main variety is yellow as pictured, but an orange variety has been developed that is somewhat sweeter. In a University of Florida consumer test, consumers preferred the appearance of the orange variety but preferred the taste of the traditional yellow variety.

Buying: select squash that is heavy for its size and is completely ivory or light yellow. Any green indicates it is not ripe enough.

Squash Blossom   -   [C. pepo]
Squash Flowers Squash Blossoms are most used in Mexican and Italian cuisines. Male flowers, most often from Zucchini, are used as these will not produce squash. They may be stuffed, usually with light cheeses, and fried or baked. They are also used in soups and pasta sauces. They are valued for their sweet floral flavor and aroma, as well as their conveniently large size and stuffability. They are generally around 3-1/2 to 4 inches long, not counting the stem. These were purchased from a large multi-ethnic Market in Los Angeles (Altadena, actually).

Squash Greens   -   [C. pepo?]
Squash Greens These greens can occasionally be found in Philippine markets here in Los Angeles (Filipinos use many kinds of greens not commonly used elsewhere). My local market in Eagle Rock puts out greens like these late on Friday afternoon or early Saturday for the heavy weekend shopping, as they are very perishable. I do not know precisely what kind of squash these greens came from, but I was not too impressed with these as their fuzziness doesn't go completely away upon cooking.

Sunburst Squash   -   [C. pepo]
Sunburst Squash A common summer squash which can be use anywhere summer squash is called for. This is a yellow version of the Pattypan, listed separately here because it's always sold under the Sunburst name. Dark green with light broken stripes right up until ready to harvest, it then turns yellow and is at its peak when there's still some green in the center.

In common with yellow varieties of other green vegetables, the flavor is a bit bland and it is definitely less sweet than the regular green pattypan. Use it where you want a decorative accent but choose the green for flavor. The right photo specimen was 3-5/8 inches diameter, 2-1/8 inch thick and weighed 4-3/4 ounces. This squash is very tender but its high ratio of shell to seed mass helps it hold together when cooked.

Sweet Dumpling Squash   -   [C. pepo]
Sweet Dumpling Squash

Due to its small size and shape this is a favorite squash for stuffing and roasting whole for individual portions. Available September through December it is sweeter than most C. pepo squash. The photo specimen was 4-1/4 inches diameter, 3 inches high and weighed just under 1 pound but they are often smaller. This squash is very similar to the Delicata except for shape.

Yellow Crookneck Squash   -   [C. pepo]
Yellow Crookneck Squash

Practically the definitive summer squash until the coming of the Zucchini, this squash can be used in just about any summer squash recipe that doesn't require the zucchini's cylindrical shape. As with other yellow squash, the flavor is a bit bland compared to the green zucchini. The photo specimen was 6-1/2 inches long, 2-5/8 inches in diameter and weighed 9-3/4 ounces.

Tromboncino   -   [Zucchetta, Zucchino rampicante, Climbing zucchini, Climbing crookneck, Trombolino d'albenga, Trombetta, Serpentine squash; C. moschata]
Whole Tromboncino

Originally from Liguria in Italy, this is a popular summer squash there and around the world. It is used mainly as a summer squash because when mature it is a little more watery than other winter squash. Flavor is very good, a little lighter than dark green Zucchini, and it can be used wherever a summer squash is called for. The photo specimen was about 19 inches long, 3 inches in diameter and weighed 1 pound 6 ounces. The shaft was about 1-1/4 inches diameter.

Turban Squash   -   [C. maxima]
Turban Squash

Related to the Buttercup Squash this squash is seen at various times of the year in Southern California but becomes quite common in September. It is often used as an autumn decoration, but it's quite edible with orange flesh described as having a somewhat hazelnut flavor. The specimen in the photo, viewed from the flower end, was 8-1/2 inches in diameter, 6 inches high and weighed 5-1/3 pounds.

Xilicayota   -   [Chilacayote; Cucurbita ficifolia}

This squash originated either in Mexico or Peru, but is now grown also in Southern California, Southeast Asia and all through the warmer parts of Central and South America. It is popular in Mexico, particularly Oxaca, where it is eaten as a squash when immature, and used to make squash beverages (sometimes alcoholic) when mature. It has also been found to have medicinal uses, particularly in treating diabetes.

The photo specimen was 11 inches long, 8 inches in diameter and weighed 16 pounds. This is a very durable squash - the photo specimen sat on my kitchen floor for about 6 months and still looked fine, though it lost some weight. Then it fairly quickly lost its bright color and dried out to a thin shell. I deliberately let it dry out so I could get mature seeds, which look like black pumpkin seeds

Zucchini   -   [Italian squash; Courgette (UK); Cocozelle (Italy); C. pepo]
Zucchini Squash

Seeds for this summer squash came from Italy to the Italian farming communities of California. Growers here marketed it as Zucchini ("little squash") and it became popular in trend setting Los Angeles restaurants. From there it spread to the rest of the world and "zucchini" has pretty much replaced the original name, Cocozelle - except for the British who insist on calling it a Courgette.

Zucchini now comes in a variety of sizes, shapes (including spherical) and various shades of green and yellow. As is so common with vegetables, the yellow varieties have a blander flavor than the green.

Pictured are very young squash much in demand for Near Eastern cooking, a yellow variety and a medium size. Left to grow they could all have become the monster zeppelins found in back yard gardens. The small are 6-1/2 inches long, 1-1/8 inch diameter and weigh a shade over 3 ounces. The medium one was 8-1/2 inches long, 1-3/4 inches in diameter and weighed 9-1/2 ounces. They shouldn't be allowed to get much bigger unless you intend to stuff them because flavor and texture will suffer. Also, if you pick them young you don't end up with that ton of zucchini you try to give away every year.

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