Summer Squash

Squash comes from the Narragansett-Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked”. Mic drop. That pretty much sums up why summer squash is so great. But squash is also great for zucchini bread to pumpkin pie. What’s not to love about squash?

The squash family is huge. It includes everything from giant pumpkins, to long, slender zucchini, to the teeny tiny pattypan squash. This blog post mainly celebrates summer squash, but we’ll also touch on winter squash a bit.

History of squash

Squash is one of the oldest known crops. It dates back approximately 10,000 years from sites in Mexico. Each Native American tribe grew squash that catered to their climate. For instance, the Northeastern tribes grew pumpkins, yellow crookneck, pattypan and Boston marrow squash, which is thought to be the oldest squash in the Americas. Further south, the southern tribes grew winter crooknecks, cushaws, and sweet potato squash.

Since squash is a gourd with a hard shell, they most likely served as containers or utensils back then. Native Americans also roasted or boiled the squash and used the flesh as preserves in syrup to prepare for winter. They also ate the young shoots, leaves, flowers and seeds.

Early settlers were not very impressed by the Native Americans’ squash…until they had to survive the harsh winter. Suddenly, pumpkins and squash were staples. Squash could be baked or combined with animal fat, maple syrup and honey. The uses were endless.

When the Europeans colonized America, they brought squash to Europe where squash cultivation began. Zucchini was developed in Italy in the 19th century near Milan. The name comes from a plural diminutive Italian word for squash known as zucca.

Native Americans’ knowledge of squash spread like a squash vine all over the world. From this, came the Middle Eastern cousa squash and French Ronde de Nice squash, among many others. Squash cultivation is alive and well today. Less than 50 years ago, summer zucchini came to America and became known as “Italian squash”.

The squash family

Squash are among the most beautiful vegetables because of their imperfect shape and deep color.  There are many kinds of squash, all part of the Cucurbitaceae family. The terms pumpkin, winter squash and summer squash apply to fruits of three kinds:

Cucurbita maxima

These are winter squash with round, thick stems such as buttercup squash, hubbard squash, turban squash and winter pumpkins. They are a larger fruit with hard seeds and ripen in the fall. They can be stored for several months and must be peeled.

C. moschata

These are also winter squash, but they have a round stem. Varieties include butternut squash, musky winter squash and cushaw squash.

C. pepo

These are summer squash with a pentagon-shape and a prickly stem. Varieties include zucchini (Italian are the sweetest), marrow squash, French courgette squash, yellow squash, ornamental gourds, crookneck squash, spaghetti squash and summer pumpkins. They often have a soft, edible shell and seeds. They ripen in summer and are best eaten soon after harvest.

Types of summer squash

Zucchini

  • Usually green in color, but can be yellow or dark green with pale green stripes
  • Long, with flat sides
  • A type of summer squash
  • The flavor is of average sweetness
  • Thin skinned compared to other summer squash
  • Flesh is neither very firm, nor very tender
  • Great workhorse summer squash. Can be eaten raw, sautéed, grilled or baked for desserts

Gold Bar Squash

  • A golden version of zucchini
  • Nutty, grassy and subtly sweet
  • Exterior is shiny and smooth, often with subtle pale yellow stripes down the length of the squash
  • The ends are capped with bright green at blossom and stem
  • Firm flesh and thin skin makes it for great for long cooking, such as stew or conserva

Pattypan Squash

  • UFO shaped with scalloped edges
  • Green, yellow or yellow with green tops
  • Thicker skin makes it good for long cooking like summer stews

Crookneck or Yellow Summer Squash

  • Yellow in color
  • Bulbous at the bottom, thin and curved at the top
  • Some are smooth like zucchini, but often you’ll find warty, bumpy varieties
  • Crookneck falls on the tougher side of the summer squash spectrum and is also pretty bland
  • Great for grilling and then marinated in your favorite vinaigrette

Zephyr Squash

  • Easily recognizable for its two-tone coloring: light green on the bottom and yellow on top
  • Medium-thick skin that’s great for longer cooking such as ratatouille
  • Has an even thickness with a slightly skinny neck

Cousa Squash

  • Pale, speckled green
  • A little more bulbous than zucchini, but with the same basic shape
  • More tender flesh than a zucchini, with very thin skin
  • Great for Middle Eastern cuisine

Round Zucchini

  • Dark green, light green or yellow in color
  • Looks very similar to zucchini, aside from the grapefruit-like shape
  • A good zucchini substitute
  • Ideal for stuffed squash. Just lop off the top, use a spoon to dig out the insides, then fill them with anything from couscous to ground meat

Ronde de Nice

  • French heirloom eggplant variety
  • Spherical and speckled light green
  • Similar to round zucchini, but sweeter
  • Great for baked squash recipes

Avocado Squash

  • A Korean summer squash
  • Shaped like an avocado, but not related to avocado at all
  • Glossy, light green skin that is similar to a zucchini, with a creamy, yellow flesh inside
  • Delicate texture and few seeds make for great salads, or even a substitute for zucchini

What to look for when buying summer squash?

Squash shopping is easy. Bigger isn’t better. This usually means they are watery, full of seeds and fibrous. Look for firm, smaller squash in all varieties. Avoid squash that look shriveled or bruised. Look for fresh, bright-looking stems that aren’t dried out or rusted.

Storing summer squash

Summer squash are notorious for a short shelf life. Try to buy them only when you need them. Use them up within a few days. You can store them uncovered in the refrigerator. Covering them will shorten the shelf life because rot will set in faster due to their high moisture content. Squash bruises easily, so gently place them in a low-traffic area of the fridge.