Let’s cut to the shit. Pumpkins get all the glory this time of year. But, guys, pumpkins are not the only gourd in town. ‘Tis the season for squash of all stripes, as the bulbous specimen are ripe for picking, pickling and baking into pies. From farmers markets to front stoops, the time is now to jump on the Tatuma train. Put down that pumpkin spice latte, and get ready for something with bite. Here are 10 things you need to know about squash:
1. Family affair: In pre-Columbus times, indigenous Americans typically planted squash alongside maize and beans. Called the “Three Sisters” crops, the trio worked in Peter, Paul and Mary–style harmony: the cornstalk would shade the squash and support the beans, the squash’s vines would keep weeds at bay, and the beans would supply nitrogen fixing for all three.
2. Pie ministers: European pilgrims, who scoffed at Native Americans’ squash crops until — oh hey it’s winter and man are we hungry — made early versions of pumpkin pie by hollowing out a winter squash, filling it with apples, sugar and milk, then putting its stem back on and baking over fire. The first cookbook written by an American and published in the United States, Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, included another early version, called Pompkin pudding.
3. Whole foods: Sure, we’ve all toasted pumpkin seeds (called pepitas in Latin America) and enjoyed them as a salty snack. But super resourceful cooks worldwide use squash shoots and leaves as hearty greens, à la collards or now-ubiquitous kale. In Papua New Guinea’s Sepik region, for example, pumpkin “tendrils,” or the slim offshoots of would-be vines, are slow-simmered in broth and served with grilled fish or sago patties.
4. To your health: Mineral-rich squash is chock full of carotenes and Vitamins A, B and C. Pumpkin seed oil is a homeopathic superstar that can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. With 90 percent unsaturated fats, it’s one of the healthiest oils on the market, and a solid source of omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamins E and K.
5. Know your type: There are two basic categories of squash. Summer squash, those tubular green and yellow numbers also called zucchini, are picked in the middle of the growing season. Their relatively soft flesh has a shorter shelf life and needs minimal cooking time. Winter squash, like butternut or pumpkin, ripen in the fall. Their skin is harder and seeds tougher. They can be stored for several weeks but need a bit more lovin’ before they’re ready for the dinner table.
6. What’s in a name: The fruit is believed to be named for the Narragansett word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw uncooked.” The British sport that vaguely resembles tennis was originally called “rackets,” but eventually became known for its “squashy” rubber ball.
7. Floral notes: All squash have edible flowers, but zucchini blossoms are most common. To serve, give them a quick fry, or shred raw petals and stems over peppery arugula. Or ask yourself, What would Eric Ripert do, and then stuff them with crème fraîche and crabmeat.
8. Drink up: As cocktailers continue to get crafty with the produce department, squash are the newest barflies on the block. At New York City’s Distilled, a new TriBeCa joint helmed by a Momofuku alum, bartender Micaela Piccolo makes an acorn squash mixture so seasonal, it’s basically the turtleneck sweater of cocktails.
9. Get briny: The best squash for pickling is yellow summer squash, which Southern cooks traditionally boil with sugar and vinegar, then can before winter sets in. Still have a few lying about? Here’s a quick fix: thinly slice squash and a sweet onion. Cover with kosher salt and let sit for one hour. Bring equal parts cider vinegar and sugar to a boil. Add squash, onions and a pinch of celery and mustard seeds. Return to a boil. Jar them up with a little bit of pickling liquid, and you’re good to go.
10. Always a bridesmaid: Archeologists estimate the earliest squash were grown 10,000 years ago in modern-day Ecuador and Mexico, making it one of the world’s oldest known crops. Other contenders include Mesopotamian wild grains, and a petrified fig plant recently discovered outside of Jericho that may date back 11,400 years.
Read more about squash on Food Republic: