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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch


Includes Recipe Below

"The apple of God," an expression of Ancient American Indians, tells us that as far back as 3,000 BCE squash was elevated to the highest status. The belief was that the squash seeds would increase fertility if they were planted close by, and indeed those with large squash fields did produce large families. With such strong faith in the powers of squash, the early Native Americans made this vegetable an important staple in their diet.

The early colonists didn't take to squash with the same reverence as their native neighbors. In fact, it took them a while to acquire a taste for squashes such as pumpkins that they considered a rather bland vegetable. In l816 a young bride, named Elisabeth Skinner, discovered another use for certain squashes. She would pound the seeds into a meal, rub the mixture into her skin, and sit in the sun. She found that "it taketh away freckles and al spottes."

The name "squash" is an abbreviation of the word "askutasquash" from the Narragansett Indian language, a tongue the Pilgrims found challenging. Other tribes in the area had similar words that all meant "something that is eaten raw." The Iroquois called it "isquoutersquash." The Algonquins' word, taken from the second syllable, was "askoot."

Squashes are true natives of the "New World" and are ubiquitous throughout both North and South America. The turban squash came from Brazil; the Valparaiso was from Chile; the Hubbard originated in the West Indies; and the cushaw was first found in Florida. The Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizarro, discovered winter squashes in Peru and brought seeds back to an unenthusiastic citizenry in his country. Archeologists uncovered stems, skins, and seeds of summer squashes in the caves of the Tamaulipas Mountains of Mexico dating back between 7,000 and 5,000 BCE. During that period the cave dwellers were beginning to cultivate squashes along with beans, chili peppers, and agave.

When the Pilgrims arrived in America, they encountered, among many squashes, the pumpkin that Native Americans had been cultivating for centuries. Some botanists believe squashes were the first cultivated crop of the Indians. To this day the "three sisters" refers to the three foods that appear together consistently in Native American cuisine: squash, corn, and beans. The origin of this expression is traced back to an Iroquois myth with the three vegetables representing three sisters who were inseparable. Pumpkin

Today's inseparable combination of "Thanksgiving and pumpkin" began with the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving when pumpkins were hollowed out, filled with milk, honey and spices, and then baked. In the modern Thanksgiving celebration pumpkin maintains its prominent status as the pumpkin pie at the end the meal.

It's fascinating to note that after the mid-1500s many explorers from Europe who encountered squashes and pumpkins for the first time referred to them as melons. Though many varieties of gourds are native to Europe, squashes did not exist there before Columbus came to the Americas. Yet, historians began claiming that squashes grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, that there were recipes for squash in the first Roman cookbook by Apicius, that squashes were mentioned in Pliny's writings, and that Charlemagne ordered squashes be grown in his gardens.

The facts reveal that archeologists never found squash seeds in the tombs of ancient Egypt, though they did find utensils made of gourds. Pumpkins and squashes are not mentioned in the Bible, ancient Chinese writings, or in ancient Asian Indian Sanskrit documents. Squashes are uniquely American. The writings probably referred to gourds that were somewhat edible, though not as tasty as our squashes.

Though the explorers brought seeds back to Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the London Horticultural Society experimented with what they called marrow squashes in their gardens in 1816, squash didn't stir up any interest until the nineteenth century. One Frenchman, after tasting "the new vegetable" for the first time, negatively referred to squash as "Naples' and Spain's revenge."

All squashes are members of the Curcurbitafamily that produces varieties of every color, texture, shape, size, and range of flavors. There are winter squashes with tough skins that are mostly autumn harvested and soft-skinned summer squashes that are mostly available in summer. However, with today's advanced horticultural practices, squashes of almost all varieties are available year round. Large seed companies and agriculturists worldwide are constantly developing new varieties of squashes, such as Carnival, Stripetti,and Eat It All.

The thrree main catagories that exist in the Curcurbita family are:
Curcurbita pepo- includes zucchini, summer squashes, acorn, spaghetti, table queen, pumpkin, and colored gourds.
Curcurbita maxima- embraces hubbard, banana, buttercup, golden nugget, marblehead, and pumpkin.
Curcurbita moschata- includes butternut, ponca, waltham, pumpkin, and calabaza

To this day there seems to be some confusion in distinguishing the word squash from pumpkin. Although there are three distinct botanical species of squashes, categorizing pumpkins seem to be a confusing issue. Some botanists refer to them as Curcurbita pepo,others Curcurbita maxima,and still others Curcurbita moschata.

Squashes are a delight to grow in home gardens. They're easy to plant, don't require a great deal of work, and are rewarding to harvest.

PLANTING: For summer squashes start seeds in early spring. For winter squashes, plant in mid-summer. Plant seeds 1" deep and 24" apart, preferably in soil that is loose and well composted. Most squashes do not do well in heavy clay soil. If your soil is clay based, cultivate well with compost, peat moss, and sand to allow adequate retention of moisture and good drainage. Squash seeds can be started indoors and will transplant well when the ground warms up. Make sure you give squashes plenty of room to grow. Summer squashes tend to be more bushy, but winter squashes with their natural trailing tendency produce vines ten to fifteen feet in length along the ground.

In order for squash plants to yield "fruit," they need bees to pollinate them. Squash plants produce both male and female flowers on one plant. Pollen must be transferred from the male to the female flower by bees in order for fruit to set. Pollination usually requires several bees visiting the female flower within a 24-hr. period. When bees are not present, pollinating can also be hand done by removing the stamen with the pollen from the male flower and rubbing it on the pistil center of the female flower.

HARVESTING: Squashes are mature when the portion lying on the ground has developed the coloring of that squash variety. Leave stems of 3" to 4" on pumpkin and other winter squashes. Those without stems do not store well. Because the stems break easily, it's best not to handle them by the stems. On Hubbard squashes remove the stem completely for longer storage of up to six months.

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti squash is ready to harvest when the rind is light tan to golden yellow, and weighs 2 5 pounds. Another determining factor for testing maturity is that it will be difficult to pierce the skin with the thumbnail. Harvest before the frost and store between 55 to 60 degrees F. Squashes keep several months but are best eaten within three or four months.

STORAGE: Keep squashes dry. The ideal storage temperature of 50 to 55 degrees F. (10 to 12 degrees C) allows squashes to keep well for two to three months. If stored in the refrigerator, they become too cold and rot quickly when taken out of storage. Once squash is cut, store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

NUTRITION: All squashes are low in calories and low in carbohydrates. Most winter squashes contain considerable fiber, with a higher fiber content in its raw state.

Most varieties of winter squash are exceptionally high in beta carotene. One-half cup of baked Butternut squash provides 7141 IU. The same quantity of baked Hubbard offers 6156 IU of beta carotene, while baked pumpkin provides 1320 IU. The exception is Spaghetti squash which contains only 86 IU for that same one half cup. Summer squashes are also good sources of beta carotene, averaging 250 to 300 IU for one half cup.

All squashes contain trace amounts of B vitamins including folic acid and offer a healthy dose of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. One half cup of Hubbard squash packs a potassium serving of 365 mg, baked Acorn 320 mg,, and baked Butternut 289 mg.

SHOPPING: All squashes, winter and summer, should be purchased as close to harvest as possible and cooked soon after. Although winter squashes can keep for several months, many varieties lose their sweetness and moisture if kept beyond two or three months. Banana and Hubbard squashes are the exception and will keep up to six months.


Acorn Sq. Acorn Squash is about five or six inches long (12.5 to 15 cm),, deep green in color, sometimes with orange streaks, and has deep ribs that taper to a point at one end. The flesh inside is yellow, the flavor very delicate. Table Queen and Golden Delicious are two varieties developed in more recent years and can be recognized by their bright orange skin with green flecks.

Banana Squash is a giant elongated squash that weighs up to 40 pounds (18.14 kg) and is sold in pieces wrapped in plastic. The outer skin color is pale yellow to light beige with bright orange flesh inside. The flavor is moist and delicate.

Butternut Squash is a seasonal favorite for its very sweet orange flesh, although it is often available year round. You can recognize it by its pinkish beige skin color and elongated shape that develops into a bulb at one end. Avoid those with green coloring on the outer skin that indicates it was harvested before maturity.

Delicata, also called Sweet Potato Squash, is elongated, about 5" to 8" (12.5 to 20 cm) in length and weighs about a pound (453 kg). The color is creamy with dark green or orange stripes. Choose firm, unwrinkled squashes. The color inside is a deep yellow, the flavor deliciously sweet.

Hubbard Squash is very large, heavy, and looks like it has warts. One squash can weigh up to 40 pounds (18.14 kg). The flesh inside is dense, pale yellow, and very delicate in flavor. The outer color is usually deep green, but varieties of white, blue-gray, and orange are appearing at farm stands.

Kabocha Kabocha, an intensely sweet squash in the buttercup family, is the generic Japanese word for squash. It's also referred to as Japanese pumpkin. The flesh inside will be an intense yellow-orange color and very dense. A common variety of Kabocha is called Sweet Mama. Choose one that is solid and heavy for its size. Color varies from mottled dark green all over to mostly dark green variegated with areas of orange and yellow. Its shape reminds one of a dark green pumpkin that someone sat on and flattened. Click here for a full article on kabocha.

Pattypan is a round summer squash that measures about 1" to 2" in height (2,5 to 5 cm), 3" to 4" in diameter (7.5 to 10 cm.), and has fluted edges. The skin is soft and edible. Colors vary from pale green to dark green, all yellow, yellow with green, or all white. The flesh inside is creamy white, the flavor mild.

Pumpkins are categorized by sizes. Miniature pumpkins are 3 to 4 inches in size (7.5 to 10 cm) and weigh less than 1 pound (453 g). Varieties include Sweetie Pie, Jack Be Little, Sugar Pumpkin, Mini Jack Munchkin, and Baby Boo.

Small pumpkins are 1 to 5 pounds (453 g to 2.3 kg).
Small/Medium are 5 to 10 pounds (2.3 kg to 4.5 kg).
Medium/Large 10 to 25 pounds (4.5 kg to 11.4 kg).
Mammmoth pumpkins weigh 100 pounds (45.4 kg) or more. These large pumpkins have encouraged the formation of Giant Pumpkin Clubs that exchange seeds and award prizes for the largest. The Oregon 1993 record was 727 lbs. On Oct 5, 1996 a prize of $10,000 was awarded for a 1061-pound pumpkin grown in New York.

Sugar Pumpkin or New England Pie Pumpkin is recommended for baking pies. Some varieties have white skins but have orange flesh inside.

Spaghetti Squash is related to the pumpkin. The shape is elongated, about 5" to 14" in length (12.5 to 38 cm) with a diameter of 4" or 5" (7.5 to 10 cm). Those with the brightest yellow color are the most mature and flavorful. The flesh inside is pale yellow and delicate in flavor with a stringy and fibrous texture. Orangetti, a variety of Spaghetti squash, has orange rind and flesh and is higher in Vitamin A than its yellow cousin. Many cooks use this squash like spaghetti and serve it with tomato sauce.

Sweet Dumpling looks like a squat round version of the Delicata squash with similar coloring. The very sweet, moist, yellow-orange flesh makes this squash a seasonal favorite. This variety is popular for stuffing and to use as a creative container for serving soups, dips, and sauces.

Turban Squash Turban Squash is quite edible, but is often used ornamentally for its attractive turban shape and bright orange, green and white colors. This variety is very dense and heavy with a diameter of 10" to 15" or more (25 to 40 cm). The moist yellow-orange flesh can vary from mild to quite sweet.

Yellow Crookneck is an all yellow summer squash with edible skin and a texture and flavor similar to zucchini. The size can vary from 4" to 6" in length (10 to 15 cm). Its distinguishing feature is its graceful curved neck that flows into a wider bulb at the blossom end. Select those that are firm with the least blemishes on the skin.

Zucchini is also known as vegetable marrow. The French refer to zucchini type squashes as "courgette." Zucchinis are deep green, are about 4" to 6" in length (10 to 15 cm) , and vary in diameter from 1/2" to 1 1/2" (1 to 3.5 cm). In recent years several varieties have come on the market such as yellow zucchini and those that are streaked with yellow and green. A variety called Mexican squash is light green with darker green speckles and has a plump stubby appearance. The Mexican squash is slightly sweeter than zucchini. Zucchini is a summer squash with a soft edible skin, delicate white flesh, and edible seeds inside. Choose firm, unwrinkled squashes and cook them soon after purchase. If kept too long, they become bitter. Click here for a full article on zucchini.


Raw: Both summer and winter squashes can be enjoyed raw. They can be shredded, diced, or chopped into salads.

Both can be put into the blender with other raw vegetables and fruits, tastefully seasoned, and blended into delicious soups.

Both can be sliced or cut into julienne strips and served as crudites with dips.

Roasted: All varieties of summer squashes can be sliced either lengthwise or crosswise about 1/2" thick (1 cm), brushed lightly with oil, and roasted at 375 to 400 F. (Gas marks 5 to 6) for about 25 minutes.

Baked: The hard-skinned winter squashes lend themselves to baking either whole or cut in half. Place squashes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (shiny side down) and bake at 400 F. (Gas Mark 6) for 40 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on variety. If cut in half, scoop out seeds, and brush with oil. Place cut side down on aluminum foil and bake at 400 F.

Both winter and summer squashes can be cut in half, stuffed, covered with aluminum foil (shiny side down) and baked. As an easy alternative, you place cut side up on baking sheet, brush with oil, and season before baking at 400 F.

After baking, squashes can be mashed and seasoned to a savory blend or sweetened as desired. Baked and mashed squashes can be added to breads, muffins, and pancakes to add flavor and moistness.

Boiled: Winter squashes can be peeled with a vegetable peeler or paring knife and cut into bite-size pieces. Put into a saucepan with about an inch of water, cover pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down and simmer gently for 6 to 10 minutes. If desired, add salt to the water before cooking.

Summer squashes should not be peeled. They can be sliced about 1/2" (1 cm) thick or cut into bite size pieces and put into a saucepan with 1/2" (1 cm) of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and steam 3 to 4 minutes.

Steamed: Winter squashes should be peeled, summer squashes should not. It may be easier to peel the winter squashes after cooking. Cut squashes into slices 1/2" thick (1 cm) or cut into bite-size chunks if desired. Place in a steamer basket over 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of water and cover. Turn heat to high and steam on high for 4 to 10 minutes depending on variety.

Stir Fried: Both summer and winter squashes can be sliced, diced, shredded, or chopped and added to stir fries along with other vegetables and seasoned with your favorite herbs and spices.

Miscellaneous: Both summer and winter squashes can be cut into bite-size pieces and added to soups, stews, or tarts or pies seasoned savory or sweet.


Here's a tasty side dish that brings the delightful sweetness of winter squash into the spotlight.

2 Sweet Dumpling squashes

1/2 C. (118 ml) long-grain brown rice
1 1/4 C. (296 ml) water
1 t. salt

4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. dried thyme leaves
1/2 t. dried marjoram
1 1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C. (118 ml) raw pine nuts, toasted

Salt to taste

Sweet Dumpling
  1. Cut squashes in half lengthwise (from stem to blossom end), scoop out seeds, and place cut side down on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Bake at 400 (gas mark 6) for 40 minutes.
  2. While squashes are baking, combine rice, water and salt in a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and steam 35 to 45 minutes until tender.
  3. Combine tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, black pepper, herbs, and olive oil in a large skillet. Saute over high heat until onions are softened and transparent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. When rice is cooked, add to ingredients in skillet along with pine nuts and mix well. Season to taste.
  5. Stuff squash cavities. Spread the remainder of the stuffing onto the bottom of a lightly oiled 7" x 9" (17.5 x 23 cm)baking pan. Lay squashes on top of stuffing. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Bake at 350 (gas mark 4) for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 4.

For other squash recipes click on Recipe Index.

Click here for past On the Highest Perch Features

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