Growing Squash: From Plant to Plate

Squash—both summer and winter varieties—are a staple garden crop, being versatile, nutritious, and prolific.


| September/October 1989



Squash in a Skillet

Summer and winter quashes can be used in a wide range of recipes--in pies, casseroles, even fruit cocktails.

PHOTO: AL CLAYTON

When Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, first became acquainted with squash, he called them "vine apples of many colors." That's a more poetic description of the varied vegetables than our shortened version of the Native American word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw." But as Shakespeare might have noted, a squash by any other name would taste as delicious. It would be as nutritious, too, because vine apples, in all their myriad forms, are good sources of vitamin A and provide important minerals like potassium, phosphorus and calcium, yet they contain very few calories and almost no fat.

Many kinds of squash, sliced raw, can be used in salads and served with dips. They can be baked, boiled, steamed, sautéed or deep-fried. (Many children are particularly fond of summer-squash "french fries.") They can also be used—sliced, chopped or puréed—in a variety of casseroles, breads and even desserts. This versatility comes in handy because growing squash yields such a prolific harvest that they are likely to grace a gardener's table for many months. Fortunately, there's a nearly overwhelming variety of types to choose from, so it's not difficult to find more than one that will please the palate.

Types of Squash: What to Grow

There are the two main categories of squash: summer and winter. Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) are believed to have originated in North America. They require full sun and are harvested while still young and tender (some in less than 50 days; most in 60 to 70 days), and include such well-known varieties as zucchini (both green and yellow types); crookneck and straightneck squash (both generally yellow); and scallop, or pattypan, squash (usually white, but sometimes yellow). These warm-weather vegetables will keep for only a week or so in the refrigerator, so you'll probably want to can or freeze a large part of your crop.

Don't forget, too, that the blossoms of many kinds of squash (particularly the male flowers), picked just before they open, are delicious in soups, with meat, in stews or scrambled with eggs; they can also be sautéed, dipped in batter and fried, or stuffed.

Many types of winter squash originally came from South America, though this is a broad category that includes Cucurbita maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata and C. pepo. With the exception of the butternut, they are hard-shelled, and while the fruits can be steamed when young, most are meant to be harvested when fully mature at around 75 to 120 days. These winter-keepers, which are even more nutritious than summer squash, will stay fresh for around five months when stored in a cool, dry area, and most people think they retain their flavor better when stored than when cooked (cubed or puréed) and frozen.

Winter squash are perfect for baking. Just cut them in half, remove the seeds (which can be dried and roasted) along with the stringy pulp, and sprinkle the flesh with brown sugar and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the baking dish in a pan of water, and bake the squash at 350°F until tender, which can take from 10 to 30 minutes.

Though some bush and semibush types are now available, the sprawling vines of most winter squash take up more garden space than do summer varieties. Their fruits come in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors, but fall into six main groups—butternut, acorn, buttercup, delicious, Hubbard and banana—with a mind-boggling array of cultivars to choose from in each category.





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