Squash is grown in zone 4 and warmer. The word squash is derived from the Massachusett Indian word askutasquash, meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” Squash is believed to have its origins in Mexico and Central America, with original seeds dating back 12,000 years to caves in Ecuador (1). Squash remains a staple food in those areas. Squash has two main varieties: summer and winter. The plant grows up to 3 feet in height, with a spread of between 2 and 4 feet. Summer squash is relatively easy to grow, requiring ample sun, warm temperatures, and fertile, well-drained soil. Squash is sensitive to frost and heat. Summer squash forms a bushy vine, while winter squash vines are large and sprawling (3). The main difference between summer and winter squash is the harvest time, and the longer growing period gives winter squash a tougher, inedible skin (2). Summer squash are harvested early, when their skin is still soft and edible, while winter squash continues growing into the fall (1). Squash leaves are medium green with yellow blossoms. Squash seeds emerge in 5-10 days, with ideal germination temperature being 95 F. Pests include the squash bug, squash vine borer, and striped cucumber beetles. Varieties include yellow summer squash, zucchini squash, scalloped or patty pan squash, and mideast or cousa varieties.
Zucchini has a thin, edible skin, and white edible flesh and seeds. Zucchini are best eaten right away, and become bitter when left too long.
Pumpkins are in the winter squash group, along with butternut, acorn, delicious, hubbard, banana, buttercup (turban), and spaghetti squash.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Both squash and blossoms are edible and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Squash blossoms can be added to soups and stews, as well as be sauteed, stuffed, and dipped in batter and fried. Squash can be made into french fries and used raw for salads. Winter squash are more nutritious than summer. Summer squashes cook quickly and are eaten with the skin. Winter squash can be baked whole or sliced in half, placed on a baking sheet, brushed with oil and left to bake at 400 F. For steaming and boiling, remove skin from winter squash. A simple and delicious way to prepare acorn squash is by baking and serving with butter. Butternut squash has a similar taste to sweet potato, and can be used as a substitute in recipes calling for sweet potato. Butternut squash is commonly made into soup. Spaghetti squash is a large, light yellow variety that is unique due to its spaghetti-like flesh (6). The stringy flesh is delicate and has a consistency similar to angel-hair pasta with a mild flavor. To prepare, slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash face down on a pan with a bit of water on the bottom, and bake for 30-40 minutes. Once tender, the insides can be scraped out and made into long strands. Serve right away with marinara sauce, butter or olive oil. (7). Zucchini , like pumpkin, is highly versatile and can be made into a variety of sweets such as zucchini bread, brownies, and cakes. Zucchini is an ingredient in the dish Ratatouille, and is also delicious when stuffed with cheese and baked (18). Pumpkin can be made into beer by fermenting persimmons, hops, maple sugar, and pumpkin (12). Both summer and winter varieties can be prepared savory or sweet, with pumpkin pie being a classic example of sweet seasoning. The seeds of several squash varieties can be dried out, mixed with oil, salt and pepper, and toasted on a cookie sheet at 350 F until golden and crispy (17). Different varieties of summer squash have little difference in taste, while winter squash have a broader range of flavors.
Squash contain mostly carbohydrates, little protein and almost no fat. As its yellow color indicates, squash is filled with the mineral provitamin A, beta-carotene, as well as calcium and potassium. Squash is filled with soluble vegetable fiber, which provides lasting satiation. The soluble fiber in squash provides a mild laxative effect, making it important for digestive health. Summer squash provides a huge supply of antioxidants, with the skin of squash being especially rich in antioxidants. Steaming and freezing, rather than boiling or microwaving, retains the nutrients within squash. Cooking squash with less water preserves the amount of phenolic compounds, which are associated with color vibrancy and flavor in vegetables (10). The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes. In order to receive the full spectrum of nutrients that squash has to offer, eat skin, seeds and flesh. Squash consumption is recommended to regulate blood sugar and for those with type-2 diabetes.
Seeds have anti parasitic properties, and the seeds and oil extracted from seeds have a history of use in botanical and folk medicine. Dried summer squash seeds are used in some cultures around the world to heal intestinal worms and parasites. The antioxidant supply in squash is linked to cancer prevention (8). Squash also has the three strongest anticarcinogens, those being vegetable fiber, vitamin C, and Beta-carotene, making the consumption of this starchy vegetable important for cancer prevention (9). The sodium and potassium contained in squash reduces hypertension. Squash without salt is highly recommended for those with hypertension. The pulp in squash neutralizes excess stomach acid, and also soothes the stomach, healing stomach disorders (9). An early colonist named Elizabeth Skinner found that the seeds of pumpkins can be ground into a meal and applied to skin to “taketh away freckles and all spots (16).” When the plants of the Three Sisters plot are eaten together, they provide a nutritional balance of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and vitamins.
Significance to Cultural Communities
Butternut squash, gem squash, and pumpkin leaves are staples of the traditional Zimbabwean diet (11). The bottle gourd has a nutty taste and is used in curries and cool raita in Indian dishes. Rishi, also known as Ridgegourd, turiya, and Chinese Okra, can be cooked with Dal and made into chutney (13). Squash was a staple of Aztec culture, especially pumpkin and the water gourd. Pumpkin seeds were prized for their protein content, and the bottle gourd could be used as a water container after eating (15). Native American tribes roasted or boiled squashes and preserved the skin into syrups. The starchiness of squash made it a staple winter crop, and were apparently baked, slathered with animal fat, maple syrup and honey. Calabasas (squash) is cultivated throughout the Philippines, and is cooked with or without the skin and often made into cakes (15). Butternut squash is known as butternut pumpkin in Australia and New Zealand, and Kent Pumpkin is also known as Japanese Pumpkin (15).
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