It’s the week before Halloween, which means that many people will undoubtedly be carving up that Halloween Jack o’ lantern. But of course, in the food world, we’ve been eating pumpkins, and other types of hard winter squash, for weeks now. Indeed, if I see one more recipe for pumpkin cheese cake, I might… well, I’ve already screamed. That might just be because I’m more of a fan of pumpkin pie than cheesecake, but it seems to be ubiquitous this year.
In any case, pumpkins; members of the squash family. Related to softer summer squashes (zucchini), as well as gourds (the smaller inedible varieties of squash) and distantly related to melons. Squashes are native to North America, most likely Mexico, where they are traditionally grown alongside corn and beans in a symbiotic system known as The Three Sisters. Pumpkins and squash were introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus, and their cultivation was mostly due to Spanish and Portuguese explorers.
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Summer squash (aka. zucchini) can be both a delight and a bane to home gardeners. A delight because zucchini are a fruitful fruit (while treated as a vegetable in the kitchen, zucchini and all squash are technically fruit) – they’re easy to grow and the fruit grows quickly, they’re also a bane because they’re almost too prodigious and home gardeners tend to find themselves with more zucchini than they know what to do with. In the peak of the season some will even take to leaving bags of summer squash on their neighbours’ doorsteps under cover of night just to get rid of some of their harvest.
Curcubita pepo is a member of the melon family, with distant relations to the cucumber. Squash originated in the Americas and was introduced to Europe by Columbus. The zucchini that we know today is a variety of squash that was developed in Italy. While there are a variety of different shapes and sizes of summer squash (ranging in shape from the spaceship-looking patty pan to round fruit the size of billiard balls), they can all be treated as one would a zucchini for cooking purposes.
While it’s tempting for home gardeners to let their zucchini grow huge (and they will get massive if you let them), the squash actually taste and cook best when picked at 20cm in length or less. Overly-mature fruit can be both fibrous and watery.
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