Even though most people identify squash with vegetables, from a botanical standpoint, they're considered fruits because they contain the seeds of the plant. Squash are divided into two categories—summer and winter squash.
Squash, along with corn and beans, are believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America where they were eaten 7,500 years ago.
Native Americans shared many varieties of squash with the European settlers, who took the seeds back to their countries. Today, squash and pumpkins are grown all over the world and are wildly popular in many Eastern European countries.
- Summer squash is generally divided into four groups—crookneck, zucchini (green and yellow), straightneck, and scallop (pattypan).
- They have thin, edible skins and soft seeds, and are high in vitamins A and C, and niacin. The tender flesh has a high water content, sweet and mild flavor, and requires little cooking.
- For best flavor, choose small squash (4 to 6 ounces each) with blemish-free skin. They keep well refrigerated in a plastic bag for no more than five days.
Cooking Summer Squash
- The seeds can be scooped out or left in. Squash should be salted 15 minutes prior to cooking to remove some of the water content, and then blotted dry.
- Due to their high water content, they do best when cooked with dry-heat methods such as stir-frying, grilling, or sautéing to avoid the mush factor. Cooking by steaming, simmering in a sauce, baking, or deep-frying is perfectly acceptable.
- Despite their name, winter squash is a warm-weather crop, but get their name because they can be stored through the winter.
- There are four species of winter squash—curbita pepo (acorn, spaghetti, and others), cucurbita moschata (calabaza and others), cucurbita mixta (butternut and others), and cucurbita maxima (hubbard, turban, banana, and others) with pumpkin varieties in all of them.
- Winter squash have hard, thick skins and seeds, and are high in vitamins A and C, iron and riboflavin. The flesh is firmer than summer squash and requires longer cooking.
- When selecting, look for squash that is heavy for their size and has a hard, deep-colored, blemish-free skin. Winter squash can be stored unrefrigerated but in a cool, dark place for a month or more.
Cooking Winter Squash
- The skin of winter squash is inedible. It must be peeled before cooking/eating, or the flesh should be scooped out of it after cooking.
- Winter squash can be roasted, braised, steamed, boiled, microwaved, and simmered.
- The squash blossoms from summer and winter squash are edible and are available from late spring to early fall in many markets.
- Choose blossoms that have closed buds. They will be somewhat limp, but this is normal.
- Store them, refrigerated, for no more than one day.
- They can be eaten raw as a garnish, in salads, battered and fried, or stuffed and baked.
- Pumpkins, a good source of vitamin A, are considered a member of the gourd family, which includes watermelon, muskmelon, and squash.
- Its typically orange flesh has a mild, sweet flavor, and its seeds, when husked and roasted, are nutty in flavor and popular additions to many cultures' recipes.
- For best flavor, pumpkins for cooking should be small, free from blemishes or soft spots and heavy for their size.
- They can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a month or, refrigerated, for up to three months.
- The same techniques used to cook winter squash would apply to pumpkins.
Gourds are the inedible fruit of various plants. They have an extremely hard shell and, when dried, are typically used for decoration, vessels for water, storage containers, or musical instruments. Very few gourds are used for consumption.
The Difference Between Squash, Pumpkins, and Gourds
- Texas A&M University says the answer lies in the stems. Pumpkins, squash, and gourds all belong to the same genetic family—cucurbita, but different subgroups, which can be divided into cucurbita pepo, cucurbita maxima, and cucurbita moschata subgroups.
- The pepo species of pumpkins is considered the true pumpkin, with bright orange skin and hard, woody, stems. The pepo subgroup also includes gourds, pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini, and summer crookneck squash.
- The maxima subgroup produces pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges. Other members of the maxima group are hubbard, banana, buttercup, and turban squash.
- The pumpkins in the moschata subgroup are usually long and oblong instead of round and have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged. Also in this category are cushaw, winter crookneck, and butternut squash.