Winter Squash (Part II): The Five Species You Should Meet and Eat
Welcome back to Part 2 of the Winter Squash series! If you haven’t yet, check out the first post for a little background on these plants and prepare yourself for the inevitable romance that you’ll soon have with this delectable vegetable. NOW let’s move on, and dig in, to the different squash that you might want to add to your garden and diet.
While the total number of Cucurbita genus (Remember that whole Genus species thing? It’ll come up a lot in this post...) is pretty large, there are just 5 species that are domesticated “food crops.” Allow me to introduce you them, with a smorgasbord of information and recommendations that should cement this epic vegetable into your life.
This is likely to oldest cultivated squash species, showing up around 8,000-10,000 years ago in southern Mexico. There’s good reason for this too. Some of the best known squash, including our beloved pumpkin and zucchini, make up this species.
Branching out a little from winter squash, it’s good to know that ALL summer squash are Cucurbita pepo. But like that adage about all squares are rectangles and not all rectangles are squares, Cucurbita pepo can be summer or winter squash and that makes them super cool. What’s not to love about a single species that can produce food for year round eating?
Common Types* of Cucurbita pepo: acorn, delicata, pattypan, spaghetti (marrow), sweet dumpling, many pumpkins, yellow crookneck, yellow summer squash, zucchini
Thelma Sanders Acorn
Naked Bear Pumpkin
These squash originated in South America roughly 4,000 years ago, though the archaeological gaps allow for the possibility of a longer history. (Hooray for center-of-origin mysteries!)
Although most pumpkins fall into the previous species, all giant pumpkins are part of the Cucurbita maxima species. They can get pretty enormous too. The largest pumpkin on record weighed in at 2,624.6lbs, grown in Belgium in 2016. That’s roughly the size of a walrus, or 3 male polar bears, for those of you that like vegetables and facts about large, arctic-dwelling animals.
Common Types of Cucurbita maxima: banana, buttercup, candy roaster, hubbard, kabocha, turban, and some (BIG) pumpkins
North Georgia Candy Roaster
This species tends to be a little more “tolerant” of all the issues that plague our photosynthesizing friends (like heat, aridity, disease, and pests). So if you’re looking for a variety that can tough it out in a challenging growing environment, you might want to explore the Cucurbita moschata options.
Don’t think that you’re trading taste for toughness though, the squash that is favored by food processing companies for those convenient cans of squash puree typically come from this species. It feels a bit like popping the Santa Claus illusion, but pumpkin pie made from a can is actually squash pie (and more delicious because of it).
Stay tuned for the third and final post of this series for more squash myth-busting and tips on making an EXCELLENT pumpkin/squash/cucurbit pie.
Common Types of Cucurbita moschata: butternut, calabaza, tromboncino, moscata de provenza, long island cheese
Robin’s Koginut Squash
Long Island Cheese
Some research suggests this squash is as old as Cucurbita pepo and that it was originally domesticated alongside corn around 8,700 years ago. It’s still a bit of a mystery, but we do know that it was first domesticated in southern Mexico.
Formerly known as Cucurbita mixta, the varieties that make up the Cucurbita argyrosperma species are consumed as both summer and winter squash. This species is most renowned for their seeds, which are used in sauces and traditional medicines.
Types: Cushaw pumpkin, silver-seed gourd
Green Striped Cushaw
Silver Edged Cushaw
This South American squash is somewhat absent in the American vegetable market than the other domesticated species, but it boasts some unique traits. Originating in cool, high elevation regions, this squash is comfortable in Hardiness Zones 9-11. This makes it a common candidate for grafting with more sensitive species, but also should attract the growers who are pushing the seasonal limitations that elevation and high latitude can inflict.
These squash are commonly grown for their tender greens, long-storing squash (we’re talking years here), and their super-nutritious seeds. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. The most important thing you need to know about this squash is that the seeds are used to make a Mexican candy called palanquetas (think peanut-brittle) and the mature fruit is so sweet that it is used all over the world in pies, confections, and even fermented beverages. So until this delicious crop finds its way into a farmer’s market near you, I highly suggest growing yourself some dessert vegetables at home.
Types: black-seed squash, figleaf gourd, Malabar gourd, chilacayote
Shark Fin Squash
*Some confusion comes up around the word “types” within a crop species. I throw this word around as a synonym for a few different terms (like cultivar, variety, subspecies, or whenever the heck I can’t think of a better noun). In this post, I use the word to refer to the different cultivar groups within each species (i.e. pumpkins, butternuts, ornamental gourds, etc.).