A squash, a pumpkin - more than a decoration

By Kate Crowley
The definition of the word squash is quite diverse.  It can be used as a verb, or to describe a game with a ball played on a small court, or the British word for a type of drink made with fruit juice and soda, or the topic of this column, the vegetable. The word is derived from the Narragansett Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked”.  
Squash (also known as gourds) grow on various vine like, tendril-bearing plants. Summer squash are the varieties that are quick growing, thin skinned and are eaten before their seeds harden. They are also prolific, leading some to make anonymous deliveries of unwanted zucchini in neighbor’s homes. What we call ‘winter squash’ is late-growing, sometimes oddly-shaped, smooth or warty, small to medium in size, but most importantly with long-keeping qualities and hard rinds. Both kinds belong, almost without exception, to the species Cucurbita maxima or C. moschata.
The one member of the family that gets the most attention in the autumn is the Pumpkin, even though some might believe the word to actually be "punkin".  The name comes from the old French term pompion, meaning eaten when "cooked by the sun," or ripe.  It has become pivotal in the celebration of Halloween, taking the place of the lowly turnip – but that’s another story.
Even as All Hallow’s Eve fades, the pumpkin slides right into November as the number one choice for dessert at the Thanksgiving table.  Every child learns in grade school how the pilgrims gave thanks for their survival at a table covered with food, including squash provided by their kind neighbors, the Indians.  Some squash are believed to have originated in South America, but most first grew in Mexico and Central America.  Like maize (corn) and tomatoes they gradually made their way to North America through trade.  Once established they became staple foods for millions of Native Americans. 
I didn’t grow up eating squash, except the version found in the pie, but as an adult I have become a huge fan, as is my husband.  We look forward to the autumn when the roadside displays and markets begin to fill with the gorgeous variety of solar energy captured in all shapes and colors of squash. They reflect the colors found in our oaks, maples and aspen leaves, but better yet, they remain colorful after all the leaves have fallen to the ground. 
More and more people are using these colorful vegetables to make beautiful autumn tableaus – whether outside or on the dining table.  I created one such setting on our deck, along with a couple pots of mums. It makes me smile every time I walk in and out of the door.  Before long I will have to bring them all inside to protect them from freezing temperatures, but they will sustain us in the coming winter months with nutrition and sweet flavors.  Even the names tease the imagination; Buttercup, Crookneck, Japanese Pie, Large Cheese, Marblehead, Acorn, Patty Pan, Turban, Cushaw, Hubbard, and Delicious to name just a few. 
If you haven’t yet expanded your palate to include more squash varieties, make it a goal for these coming months. With the approach of winter weather and spending more time indoors with others, we know we will be exposed to cold and flu germs.  Now is the time to build a strong immune system. Winter squash can help since it contains one of the richest sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega 3s and beta-carotene.  Here’s a hint from our kitchen.  Pour a dab of maple syrup in the cooked squash; heaven found.  And don’t throw away the seeds, especially from the pumpkins.  Clean them, soak them overnight in salted water, then drain, place on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with preferred herbs or spices and slow roast until they are crunchy. Bon Appetit!


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