Squash, although commonly identified as a vegetable, from a botanical standpoint are considered fruits as they contain the seeds of the plant. Believed to of originated in Mexico and Central America where it is believed they were eaten over 7,500 years ago; many varieties of squash as well as beans and corn were shared by American Indians with European settlers who then took the seeds back to their countries. Today, due to their wide popularity pumpkins and squash are grown all over the world.
Despite their name, winter squash are a warm weather squash. The name ‘winter squash’ comes from the ability to be stored throughout the winter and stored unrefrigerated in a cool, dark place for a month or more depending on variety. Squash that are heavy for their size with a hard, deep-coloured, blemish-free skin are the best quality. When cooking, the skin is inedible so must be peeled before cooking or the flesh should be scooped out after cooking. All winter squash are very versatile and can be steamed, boiled, braised, roasted, simmered or microwaved.
There are 4 species of winter squash all of which have pumpkin varieties in each. These are Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, Curbita pepo and Cucurbita moschata with varieties including:
Butternut- One of the most common, the Butternut is also known as butternut pumpkin in Australia and New Zealand, this variety is associated with pumpkin as it has the same taste and flesh colour. With a sweet taste, the interior is orange and the outer skin is yellow and rough. The most renowned type is the Waltham Butternut.
Hubbard- A wide range of vibrant colours makes this variety very popular. With a durability of around 6-months if stored well and each weighs between 8-20 pounds. Hubbard are one of the largest winter varieties and is best pureeed as a pie filling or mashed up due to the high sugar and sometimes mealy flesh.
Turban- Very large, with a very mild, nutty flavour, this decorative variety has an irregular turban shape which ranges in colour from orangey- yellow to mottled green bumpy exterior. Most often used as a decoration, Turban can be used in similar ways to butternut or acorn or hollowed out, makes a colourful soup tureen.
Banana- The colour of the peel varies from pink, orange and light blue with the inside having a peculiar shade of orange. Due to its long structure, and high flesh content it can be used to make pie and soup.
Spaghetti- Also known as noodle squash, vegetable marrow or vegetable the spaghetti squash gets its name from the flesh splitting into strands that look like spaghetti. It is cylindrical in shape with a shiny yellow exterior and yellow interior. Often used in savoury dishes due to its mild flavour, spaghetti squash is often dressed with tomato sauce like pasta or it can be simply enhanced with butter and herbs as a side dish.
Acorn Squash-apart from the smaller elongated shape, acorn squash is very similar in colour and texture to kabocha with a yellow-orange flesh with thick dark green to orange skin. Also known as Des Moines or pepper squash, the ridges are very distinct but the skin is edible. The squash has a mild and subtly sweet and nutty flavour.
Kabocha- Very sweet with a nutty flavour, with a texture which is similar to a blend of sweet potato and pumpkin. Kabocha is squat and round which is similar in size and shape to a butternut. The flesh texture is smooth and almost fibreless with pale orange colouration. Kabocha can be steamed or baked although; it can also be pureed to give a buttery richness to soups.
Calabaza- Cultivated in America and the West Indies, Calabaza is also known as the West Indian pumpkin and is very popular in the Caribbean. This variety can be stored for a long time due to its hard skin and is suitable for transporting large distances. The flesh is golden orange in colour with a sweet and juicy taste similar to that of butternut squash.