The American sweetheart that took the world by surprise

Squash, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash or gourd, are all names to call the botanical genus Cucurbita. Thanks to its flavour and nutritional content, this vegetable that is, in reality, a fruit, has become more and more versatile.

The Cucurbita genus includes the species under the common name of squash, originated in Central America. Being very close to North and South America, the squash “migrated” and put down roots in all the continent very quickly, becoming an indispensable ingredient in both its cuisine and culture.

It is quite easy to stumble upon a mix of spices called “Pumpkin Spice” in any supermarket in the United States. This spice mix is ideal to season pumpkin pie (and many other dishes) and contains cinnamon, clover, ginger and nutmeg.

Squash can be appreciated in kitchens around the world.

But the squash’s wanderlust could not be contained, and it didn’t take her very long to spread to the four corners of the world.

Multiple varieties, colours, and shapes.

Nowadays, although having dozens of species under its wing, there are five main varieties, which are enjoyed all over the globe.

Which are the most popular squash types?

You certainly have seen many types of squash on your supermarket trips, as well as many types of decorative ones – called ornamental squash – in gardens and parks. Ornamental squash is not edible, but is in turn very pretty. The most common edible varieties are:

Most common edible varieties of squash
  • Pumpkin, a type of winter squash, big and rounded, with thick, orange peel;
  • Black-Seed Squash, also known as Fig-leaf gourd, Malabar gourd and cidra, with a similar appearance to melon, with a green and white peel;
  • Butternut Squash, shaped like a calabash, and with a pastel orange colour;
  • Muscade de Provence Squash, similar to the pumpkin but more flattened.

These types of squash are slightly different in flavour and texture, especially the black-seed gourd, whose pulp is more fibrous. This variety is extensively used to make jam and pastries in Portugal, Spain, and South America, and even a popular type of soup in Asia.

What is the squash made of?

Squash contains at least 80% water, is poor in carbohydrates and fat, and rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.

What about squash seeds?

The seeds – just like pumpkin seeds – are frequently eaten as a snack, in salads, bread, cereal bars or even in soups, among other dishes. They are very rich in proteins and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus – your brain will sure appreciate it.

Squash seeds are tasty and healthy.

What kind of everyday recipes are there with squash?

This fruit can be incorporated in practically every kind of recipe and meal, from soups to sweets, never forgetting pasta and purées. The only thing you need is creativity and inspiration. Children tend to like pumpkin and various squash for their slightly sweet taste and vibrant colours.

Why not try and swap the traditional potato-based soup for a pumpkin and basil cream soup? Or give the common lasagne a special twist, by using pumpkin instead of pasta sheets? For a colourful and different dish, try quinoa-stuffed butternut squash. If your Achilles heel is sweets, there is spiced pumpkin and walnut cake, homemade squash jam, or jerimu cakes – typically Portuguese Christmas pastries.

Trick or treating: how squash became a Halloween icon

There is no doubt as to why the squash family shines in the kitchen, but there is another occasion where squash, and mainly pumpkins, quite literally shine. And that is on October 31st: All Hallows Eve or Halloween.

The beautiful, scary and certainly artsy jack-o’-lanterns that glimmer in the dark of Halloween night, carved out of pumpkins, butternuts and other squash, are a very actual ritual, but with very old roots, relating to the flux of immigration from Ireland to the United States.

Jack-o'-lantern - Halloween carved pumpkin

The legend that would be responsible, centuries later, for the jack-o’-lantern, originated in Scotland and Ireland: these hollowed vegetables with lit candles inside were talismans to keep bad spirits away, especially a very well known ghost, Stingy Jack. However, the first jack-o’-lanterns, in Europe, were carved out of turnips, potatoes or even beets.

When the Irish immigrants, newly arrived in the United States, laid eyes on the squash – then practically unknown in Europe –, they quickly realised that a bigger, more beautiful and more resistant jack-o’-lantern could be made. And they were exactly right.

If you’re a fan of Halloween, do carve your own jack-o’-lantern! But do not waste its delicious pulp, rather carve it out carefully and save it to use in a tasty recipe. About your lantern… use your creativity to make it as scary (or as kind) as you wish.