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.
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
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,
Note on photos: orange fleshed squash are much more orange
than shown in the photos. The Kodak digital camera does fine with the orange
of the outside of squash but is totally blind to the orange of the inside.
I can't color correct for it because the color just isn't there.
Acorn Squash -
[#4750/51/52, C. pepo]
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.
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.
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 -
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]
This medium size (2 to 5 pounds) bottle shaped winter squash
has very sweet orange flesh (much more orange than in the photo). The flavor
is described as somewhat like sweet potato and it can substitute
for sweet potato in recipes. It is one of the most widely available squash
and appears in most produce markets throughout the U.S. most of the 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.
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. There is also a smaller
rounder variety with a dark green skin that has better flavor but is very
rarely seen here and a yellow variety I've never seen. The big 2 pound spiky
chayote in the back has excellent flavor too, but you won't see them in
most regions. Grocery people hate them because they'll stab you right through
bags and lightweight gloves.
Shoots and tender leaves are also edible and are a common vegetable in
Taiwan. The elongated root tubers are starchy and also edible.
Details and Cooking.
Chilacayote - see Xilicayote.
Cushaw Squash - [Gooseneck 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]
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]
Very Zucchini like despite it's 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.
Gold Nugget -
[Oriental Pumpkin, C. maxima]
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
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
I haven't seen any around here but this version is similar to the
gray variety grown outside California (pointy at both ends). It is greener
than the gray, moderately warty and has thin uneven or broken white stripes
Golden Hubbard Squash
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 - [C. moschata]
This excellent winter squash is popular in Japan and has recently become
so in California. A grower of Kabochas for export to Japan found a percentage
of his crop undersize for the Japanese preference, so started selling them in
Los Angeles. Seeds easily escaped (some come with every squash) and other
growers are now providing a good supply of kabochas in our markets. It's now
almost as common as acorn squash and that's a good thing because the
Japanese are starting to appreciate the smaller ones too.
As with all the other orange fleshed squash on this page the
flesh is much more orange than shown - the digital camera is totally blind
to the actual color The photo specimen was 9 inches diameter, 4-3/4 inches
high and weighed just over 6 pounds, above average for markets here where
3-1/2 pounds is more common. This is a durable squash, it'll last well over a
month just sitting on the kitchen floor in a corner away from direct
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
Mediterranean Squash - [Lebanese
squash, kusa (Arabic), C. pepo]
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.
- see Bottle Gourd (not a squash).
Pattypan Squash -
[White Squash (Australia), scallop Squash, Custard Marrow (England),
Custard Squash, pâtisson (French), Cymling, C. Pepo]
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)
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
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)
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)
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
Red Kuri Squash -
[Orange Hokkaido, Baby Red Hubbard, Uchiki Kuri (Japan), #4774,
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.
Spaghetti Squash -
[Vegetable Spaghetti, C. pepo]
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.
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
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 -
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]
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 milder than the green zucchini. The
photo specimen was 6-1/2 inches long, 2-5/8 inches in diameter and weighed
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.
[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
[Italian squash; Courgette (UK); Cocozelle (Italy); C. pepo]
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 less intense 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