Let’s settle the confusion once and for all regarding squash, gourds, and pumpkins. First, botanically speaking, there is no such thing as “pumpkin”. The term pumpkin is used to refer to squash, or more specifically, winter squash, which is the norm in New Zealand and Australia. Gourds, on the other hand, refer to members of the Cucurbitaceae family grown primarily for ornament, utensils, and other non-edible items. This is not to say there are no edible gourds – there are edible gourds.
Let’s talk about squash. It has two main types: winter squash and summer squash. How are they different? The name itself reveals one of the ways they are different from one another. Summer squash is harvested between June to August. Winter squash is harvested starting autumn (September) before the frost. They are also different from one another based on shelf life. Summer squash is different from winter squash based on shelf life. Summer squash generally has a shorter shelf life compared to winter squash. They also differ in storing and cooking.
- According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the country’s per capita squash usage jumped from 1.3 pounds in 1970 to 4.6 pounds in 2011.
- Yes, there is a blue-colored squash. It is the Blue Hubbard Squash.
- Food historians believe that squashes are among the oldest crops – 10,000 years old based on archeological sites in Mexico.
- Askutasquash is a Narragansett Native American word that means “eaten raw or uncooked”. This is where the word “squash” came from.
Squash Buying Guide
Squashes are sold in groceries, supermarkets, farmers markets, and farm stands. Many different kinds of squashes are available all year long.
When buying squash, check the surface or skin for any sign of damage during handling and storage, like cracks, holes, discoloration, etc. If you are buying a summer squash (chayote squash, cousa squash, zucchini, yellow zucchini, luffa squash, pattypan squash, round zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, yellow straightneck squash, and zephyr squash), it should feel tender when you touch it. But if you are buying a winter squash (acorn squash, banana squash, buttercup squash, butternut squash, carnival squash, delicata squash, hubbard squash, kabocha squash, spaghetti squash, sugar pumpkin, sweet dumpling squash, turban squash), it is normal that the squash is hard-skinned.
Expect the supply of summer squash to peak during the harvest season (June – August). During the winter season, expect to see less summer squash and more winter squash in the market. When buying summer squash, the best ones are those which are soft and tender when you hold them, while you want winter squash with a tough, hard skin/rind.
Squash Production & Farming in Texas
Squash is easy to grow. Plant any type of squash after the danger of frost is gone. Make sure the soil is warm – at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit or it will not germinate – and make sure to plant it in a well-draining, sandy, fertile soil with lots of organic matter. The soil pH varies for different squashes but the range is normally anywhere from 5.5 to 6.8 pH. Do not overwater your squash plant and make sure these get full sun. Make sure you know if the squash you are planting is a low, trailing plant, a climbing vine, or a bush type, so that you are prepared to provide for its needs, like a trellis or support if you are growing a climbing variety or enough space for trailing varieties.
If you are planning to grow companion plants for squash, consider growing corn, lettuce, melons, peas, or radish. If you plant borage near squash, it will help improve the growth and flavor of the squash. If you plant marigolds and nasturtium, they will help repel numerous squash pest insects. Plants to avoid planting near squash are Brassicas and potatoes. Weeds are detrimental to the crop. They compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients, and as a result, the plant exhibits reduced yields and the size of the fruit is usually smaller as a result of weed problems. That is not all. Weeds also host pathogens, viruses, and insects. Because of these reasons, it is important to rid the weeds around your squash plants.
When harvesting squash, do not pull, twist, or cut too close to the stem-end. Instead, cut it in a way that a portion of the stem remains attached. This ensures that the fruit has a long shelf life. With stems removed, squashes tend to spoil faster.
The hardiness zone spectrum covering Texas ranges from 6 to 9B, which is generally ideal for many types of squash. Summer squash is ready to harvest in 60 days. Winter squash takes twice as long – 120 days.
The use of contact pesticides such as Bifenthrin, Malathion, Cyhalothrin, Cyfluthrin, or Cypermethrin is important in dealing with pests that attack squash plants like melon aphids, cucumber beetle, squash beetle, pickleworms, squash vine borer, squash bugs, and spider mites.
As of 2010, the leading producer of squash is China. Other major producers include India, Russia, the US, and Iran. Michigan, New York, and California are the major squash-growing states in the US. According to Texas A&M University, Texas is ranked fourth when it comes to the production of pumpkins, planted in more than 8,000 acres of land in Texas, and 90% of the total production of pumpkins in Texas comes from West Texas.
Squashes are usually sold without any type of packaging, primarily because their thick skin and rind already provide a layer of protection, keeping the flesh inside safe from any potential contamination while out on display. In some stores or groceries, you will see whole or chopped squash individually wrapped in plastic wrap.
Summer squash can be eaten raw, and so are certain types of winter squash (although usually, winter squash is best eaten cooked). The seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack. The skin is edible although it is not commonly eaten. While squash is a nutritious food, some people have little intolerance or develop an allergic reaction to squash, the symptoms of which could include swelling of the tongue and mouth or worse enter a state of shock. If you have a history of squash allergy or low squash intolerance, consult the doctor regarding how often you can eat squash and how much squash you can eat in a single meal.
Winter squash can keep for several months even without refrigeration. Summer squash, on the other hand, should be consumed two weeks after buying it from the market.
You’ll want to use winter squash for baking and stuffing, while summer squash is the better choice for sautéing and grilling. When it comes to stews or soups, both winter and summer squash will do, just make sure not to overcook summer squash which is oftentimes softer than winter squash. Similarly, make sure to allow sufficient cooking time for winter squash since they take longer to cook compared to summer squash.
Squash is used in making pies, pizzas, bread, muffins, and even cakes. It is used as a filling for tacos or as a substitute for noodles. Squash is great in many different vegetable dishes.
Improve your heart and eye health, have better skin, even reduce the risk of depression – all of these (and more) are the benefits of eating squash, which is packed with magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin B6. Those who are diabetic should include squash in their diet because squash helps manage diabetes.