Squashes are gourds that belong to the same family as melons and cucumbers. Most varieties have a creamy white flesh on the inside protected by an out- side rind or soft shell. Squash has been a part of the Native American diet for more than 5000 years. When early Europeans settled in America, they began to eat squash. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson loved to grow squash. In the nineteenth century, sailors returned from South and Central America with many new varieties. This exploration resulted in the various colors, shapes, and sizes that are available today.
Summer squash is a warm season plant. It grows best at temperatures between 65° and 75° F. Summer squash is available all year but is best from May to August. Summer squash vines are very prolific, the more harvest the greater the yield. The most important characteristic to remember is that summer squash is best when immature, young and tender.
All types of summer squash are alike enough to be mixed in recipes. Here are some varieties.
Zucchini: This is the most popular summer squash. The shape of a zucchini looks like a cucumber. Zucchini skin is medium to deep green, with paler green spots or stripes.
Patty pan: Patty pan is also called cymling or scallop squash. This is a green-white, disk- shaped squash. Its flesh is white and tender. Yellow patty pan squash (such as Sunburst) is similar but more cup-shaped. Scallopini is the name of a smaller green-scalloped version.
Yellow straight- neck: This squash forms a cylinder that gets thinner at one end. Its skin may be bumpy like crook- neck’s. The flesh is lighter in color than a crookneck’s.
Yellow crookneck: This squash is bottle- shaped with a thin, curved, swan-like neck. Yellow crookneck squash has yellow, some- times bumpy, skin and yellow flesh.
Chayote: Although best known in the South and Southwest, chayote (chy-o- tay, to rhyme with coyote) is becoming popular in other parts of the US. Chayote is a pale green, dark green, or white pear-shaped summer squash. It is also called mirliton, vegetable pear, and christophene. Unlike other summer squash, chayote has a large seed and a thick ridged skin. This type of squash needs a longer cooking time.
Summer squash is more than 95% water. Squash is low in calories, sodium, and fat. 1 cup of chopped yellow squash contains only 18 calories and provided 32% daily value for Vitamin C. Only when eaten with the skin, summer squash is a good source of vitamin C. To get the most nutrients, eat the entire vegetable including the flesh, seeds, and skin.
Not only are the bright yellow and orange flowers of the zucchini plant beautiful, but they are also edible! The flowers have moderate amounts of beta carotene and vitamin C.
Selection & storage
When buying, look for squash that are tender and firm. Tender squash has glossy skin instead of dull skin. It is neither hard nor tough. Select squash that have no bruises. Avoid stale or over-mature squash. This squash will have a dull skin and a hard, tough surface. Squash with these qualities will also have a dry, stringy texture inside. Avoid squash with discolored or pitted areas.
To store squash, place in a plastic bag and store in the crisper of the refrigerator. Summer squash will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
Squash is inexpensive and can be eaten raw or cooked. It has a mild flavor and a nice texture that fits many dishes. Wash squash well and trim the ends. Summer squash does not need to be peeled or seeded. They can be baked, salted, sautéed, microwaved, steamed or stir fried for best taste. Adding a variety of spices and herbs can render flavors to squash which are naturally very mild.
Enjoy this bountiful vegetable before the end of summer. At just 18 calories a serving, summer squash is a delicious, colorful and low calorie addition to any meal! Stay tuned for some easy squash recipes..