About Summer Squash

November 28, 2011

About Summer Squash

The English word “squash” derives from askutasquash (a green thing eaten raw), a word from the Narragansett, the native Americans who controlled the area surrounding Narragansett Bay in present-day Rhode Island, portions of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts. In North America, squash is loosely grouped into summer squash or winter squash, depending on whether they are harvested as immature fruit (summer squash) or mature fruit (autumn squash or winter squash). Gourds are from the same family as squashes.

Squash was one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops.

The squash is a versatile vegetable.  While some squash, such as winter squash, require cooking, others, such as the zucchini-type squash, can be prepared in every conceivable way: raw, sautéed, grilled, steamed, boiled, broiled, baked, fried, microwaved or freeze-dried.  Easily puréed for soups, cakes, pies and quick breads, it also can be spiced and added to rice pilafs, cubed and grilled on skewers, stuffed and roasted, added to stews and made into famous dishes like ratatouille and calabacitas.  Served alone or as a side dish, the squash lends itself to many occasions.
To many who grow it in their garden, the summer squash seems to be the vegetable that would solve world hunger.  Indeed, they grow fast and in seemingly infinite quantities.

Summer squashes are harvested during the growing season, while the skin is still soft and the fruit rather small; they are eaten almost immediately and require little to no cooking. The most common types of summer squash we get at the Tucson CSA are yellow crookneck, zucchini, Mexican gray, eight ball, pattipan, gold ball, sunburst and more.

Yellow crooknecks are a close relatives of yellow summer squash, but distinguishable by their bumpy, skin and, of course, its crooked neck. It is a little sweeter than other summer squashes.

Zucchinis (also known as courgette in England and France) are usually dark or light green and can grow up to 1-meter long!

Mexican Gray squash is also known as “calabacita,” in Spanish. It is a light green-gray squash that is thicker skinned than a zucchini and is often fatter with a rounder bottom. It is a perfect squash for making the popular and easy Mexican side dish, “calabacitas,” (sauté it with chopped onion, fresh corn, and roasted green chiles).

Eight-balls are zucchini hybrids that are roly-poly round! They have a delicious nutty, buttery flavor and are favorite “stuffers,” thanks to their shape.

Pattipans are round and flattened with scalloped edges.  They are usually white, yellow or green.  Although also a favorite for stuffing when on the larger size, they are good for pickling when small.

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