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.
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:
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: 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]
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. 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.
[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 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,
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 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]
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]
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;
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]
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.
Mexican Pumpkin - [C. pepo]
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 -
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
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.
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]
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 -
Squash Greens -
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 -
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 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.
[Zucchetta, Zucchino rampicante, Climbing zucchini, Climbing crookneck,
Trombolino d'albenga, Trombetta, Serpentine squash; C. moschata]
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 -
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 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