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Squash, The Versatile Fruit

Did you know that insects are the ones to blame or thank for those bizarre looking like squashes of different shapes and colors?.

 

All of the squash family blossoms are pollinated by insects, and they are responsible for cross-pollination with each other. Pollen from the flower of one variety of squash can get transported via insect to a different kind of squash where it can fertilize that plant. The squash that grow from these plants will still resemble that what you initially planted. The way to prove that there has been any cross-pollination, you will need to plant the seeds from those squash harvested and wait to see what comes out from that vine. Those seeds contain the genes from two different squash parents and will therefore produce fruit with characteristics of both. How amazing it is that a squash can resemble both set of parents in one single squash. This random mixing is what has led to the amazing creation of many beautiful and delicious varieties over time.

But what is really a squash?, why are there so many different varieties?. Most people consider squashes a vegetable but they are botanically speaking a fruit. That is right!, they are a fruit!. Fruits contain seeds and develop from the flowers of a plant. On the other hand, vegetables are a plant’s roots, stems or leaves. All types of squash have seeds and come from the flowering part of plants. In fact, edible flowers even grow out of squash and are known as squash blossoms. The entire squash, seeds and flowers are edible. Squash flowers are eaten fresh as well as fried, steamed, baked, and stuffed with filling. I know them from some Italian recipes, they are delicious!. Have you ever tried them?.

There seems to be a discussion about where do squash come from. Some varieties were domesticated in different parts of the world and given very specific uses for their every day lives that made them become natural to them. But the scientific community has emphasized that they come from Central America. Since squashes are gourds, they most likely served as containers or utensils because of their hard shells. Some of its uses throughout history were food, kitchen tools, toys, musical instruments and decoration.

The seeds and flesh later became an important part of the pre-Columbian Indian diet in both South and North America.

Native Americans roasted or boiled the squashes and pumpkins and preserved the flesh as conserves in syrup. They also ate the young shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Squashes were baked, cut and moistened with animal fat, maple syrup, and honey. For pie, Pilgrims first hollowed out a pumpkin, filled it with apples, sugar, spices and milk, then put the stem back on and baked. How amazing is that, the pumpkin was the crust, what a brilliant idea!. I can only imagine the flavor of that pie!.

Squashes come in many different shapes and colors. There are many kinds of squashes, all part of the Cucurbita species (Family Cucurbitaceae).

Cucurbita maxima (round, thick stems) are winter squash (buttercup, Hubbard, turban, winter pumpkins). Usually larger fruit with hard seeds, they ripen in the fall. They can be stored for several months.

Cucurbita moschata (round stems) are also winter squash such as butternuts, musky winter squash, and the cushaw.

Cucurbita pepo (pentagonal, prickly stem) are summer squash: zucchini (Italian for sweetest), marrow, courgette (French), yellow squash, ornamental gourds, crookneck, spaghetti squash, and summer pumpkins. Usually soft edible shell and seeds, they ripen in summer and need to be eaten soon after harvest.

Squashes are prized for their nutrition and good source of minerals, carotene niacin, riboflavin, iron and vitamin A, vitamins B and C. Summer squash is high in water content, thus low in calories.

The word “Squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked” as the Native American used to eat them raw. The word "pumpkin" is derived from the old French term pompion, meaning eaten when "cooked by the sun," or “ripen by the sun”. Interesting, isn't?, no wonder our pumpkins are left to dry in the summer sun until ready to eat. How brilliant that there are varieties of squashes to supply the different seasons in life. I feel the pumpkin love!.

Today, squashes are commonly used for a wide variety of things. Food as a main thing, but also crafts, including jewelry, furniture, dishes, utensils and a wide variety of decorations using carving, burning and other techniques. Particularly, The Luffa gourds, Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa acutangula, have been used throughout recent history as scrubbing sponge and strainer. This is prepared by removing the skin and pulp from the gourd, and bleaching the fibers.

Scientists in India have been working on crossbreeding six members of the bitter gourd genus found in India to reduce the unpleasant taste while retaining the nutritional and medicinal values of the plants.

The Chinese developed a technique of tying a two-part mould around young gourds, or a part of them, so that the gourd grew into the mould and took its shape.

What are some of the difference uses given to squashes in your country? In my home country Venezuela, we have one of our typical instrument made out of squashes, it is called “maracas”. We also have a big representation of Indigenous people who still use the squash to create their everyday life kitchen utensils. They are incredible resistant and durable, and best of all, absolutely biodegradable.

Do you have any lovely memory of a squash cup or toy growing up?, Let me hear it!. Or, do you eat the seeds?, I love eating the seeds roasted in olive oil, yum!.

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