A squash is a fleshy vegetable protected by a rind. All squashes belong to one of four species of the Curcurbita family of vegetables. In the United States, they are typically categorized as summer or winter squashes.
Summer squash, sometimes called Italian or vegetable marrow, is a vegetable often grown in warm areas. It grows on bush-like plants and is harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures. These plants can produce abundant yields in a short amount of time. Summer varieties include zucchini, yellow crookneck, scallop and yellow straightneck squashes.
Winter squash varieties, on the other hand, are harvested and eaten when the fruit and seeds are mature and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Because they stay on the vine longer, they tend to be considerably higher in nutritional value than their summer counterparts. Varieties includes acorn, spaghetti and butternut squashes.
Both summer and winter species are full of nutrients, containing trace amounts of B vitamins and providing healthy doses of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Squash rinds also contain beta-carotene. Vegetables in this family are a staple of many weight-loss diets because they are low in both calories and carbohydrates.
Although most people only enjoy the fruit of the squash, other parts of the vegetable can be eaten. The seeds are often ground into paste, pressed for oil or just eaten raw. The leaves, tendrils and shoots of the plant can be eaten as greens. Raw and fried flowers were an important part of the Native American diet.
In fact, Native American tribes gave the squash considerable importance and considered it one of the “Three Sisters.” This expression comes from an Iroquois myth that uses the vegetable along with maize and beans to represent three sisters who were inseparable. These crops were the primary plants used in agriculture and were typically planted together. The Native Americans also believed that squash seeds could increase fertility if planted close to the home.
Native Americans called the vegetable askutasquash, which meant “uncooked” or “eaten raw.” Since the Pilgrims had trouble pronouncing this word, they shortened it. The early colonists originally considered the vegetable to be a rather bland food, but once the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving by teaching them how to cultivate it, squash gained new respect. This is why Americans traditionally finish their Thanksgiving feasts with a slice or two of pumpkin pie.