Talk about an early American health food
Squash was introduced to the colonists by our native Indians when they first arrived in America. In fact, there is evidence that squash was eaten in South America more than 2,000 years ago. The English name for squash comes from the Narragansett Indian word askutasquash, which means green-raw-unripe, which was the way the Naragansetts ate it.
Squash is the fruit of various members of the gourd family and is usually divided into two groups, winter squash and summer squash. "What’s the difference?" you ask. Well, summer squash is picked young when the skin is tender and edible while winter squash is picked fully mature with a protective skin that is thick, hard, and inedible. Nutritionally, winter squash is higher in iron, riboflavin, complex carbohydrates and vitamin A, but the edible skin of summer squash is loaded with beta-carotene. So they are both good for you.
The hard part is telling them apart. There are so many odd looking varieties that I’m never quite sure whether I should cook them or use them to decorate my front porch. Below is a listing of some of the more common varieties. When shopping for winter squash, look for ones that feel heavy for their size and have hard, deep-colored skins free from blemishes. Winter squash can be baked, steamed or simmered once the seeds are removed. But don’t throw away those seeds, they are high in protein and make a tasty treat if baked or pan-fried in a small amount of oil.
Very large, long and cylindrical and can weigh up to thirty pounds. Banana squash have thick, hard skins and range in color from pale yellow to ivory with a finely textured flesh that is creamy orange or pink. Sweet and dry, banana squash is excellent when combined with baked potatoes.
Shaped like a large peanut with creamy colored skin, deep orange flesh and a distinctive butterscotch flavor. Baked or steamed, they make an excellent single serving when cut in half with a topping of butter and maple syrup.
An interesting looking squash with green and tan stripes, sometimes called Bohemian or Sweet potato squash. Delicata first arrived in New York around 1894 and has a delicate moist, creamy yellow flesh that tastes and smells like a blend of corn, butternut squash, and sweet potato. Best when baked or steamed, but not recommended for soups.
Named after Elizabeth Hubbard of Massachusetts, these squash are round in the middle with tapered necks and have warty skin. I wonder why they were named after Elizabeth. Excellent as a substitute in pumpkin pie, they have thicker, firmer texture than fresh pumpkin and because they are sweeter, less sugar is required.
Ranging in size from less than a pound to more than one hundred pounds, pumpkins are traditionally thought of as round and orange although they come in a variety of colors ranging from white to blue. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a blue pumpkin. Its orange flesh is mild and sweet in flavor and you can roast the seed for a nutty snack. When purchasing for cooking, look for smaller sizes that are free from blemishes and feel heavy for their size. When purchasing for carving, bigger is better!
One of my favorites, spaghetti squash is oval shaped, slightly sweet and a little bland. When cooked, the flesh resembles spaghetti strands and is a great substitute for pasta. Look for larger squash, they have better flavor and bigger strands.
Shaped like acorns, dark green with deep ridges, sometimes called Table Queen, has a slightly dry, orange-colored flesh that has a definite nut-like flavor. Perfect for stuffing and best when baked.