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.
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:
There are several species of squash.
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: 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.
Banana Squash -
Buttercup Squash -
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.
[Casbanan, Sikana, Musk Cucumber; Sicana odorifera]
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. 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]
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.
This is an excellent squash for any recipe calling for "pumpkin". 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
Marrow Squash - [Vegetable Marrow,
C. pepo var. ovifera]
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.
Pattypan Squash -
[White Squash (Australia), scallop Squash, Custard Marrow (England),
Custard Squash, pâtisson (French), Cymling, C. Pepo]
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.
Squash Blossom -
Sunburst Squash -
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 -
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