Squashes are one of the oldest known crops--10,000 years by some
estimates of sites in Mexico. Since squashes are gourds, they most
likely served as containers or utensils because of their hard shells.
The seeds and flesh later became an important part of the pre-Columbian
Indian diet in both South and North America. De Soto, Coronado,
and Cartier all saw “melons” (probably squash) in the
Northeastern Native American tribes grew pumpkins, yellow crooknecks,
patty pans, Boston marrows (perhaps the oldest squash in America
still sold), and turbans. Southern tribes raised winter crooknecks,
cushaws, and green and white striped sweet potato squashes. Native
Americans roasted or boiled the squashes and pumpkins and preserved
the flesh as conserves in syrup. They also ate the young shoots,
leaves, flowers, and seeds.
Virginia and New England settlers were not very impressed by the
Indians’ squash until they had to survive the harsh winter,
at which point they adopted squash and pumpkins as staples. Squashes
were baked, cut and moistened with animal fat, maple syrup, and
Squashes come in many different shapes and colors including tan,
orange, and blue. There are many kinds of squashes, all part of
the genus Cucurbita (Family Cucurbitaceae). The terms pumpkin,
winter squash, and summer squash have been applied to fruits of
- Cucurbita maxima (round, thick stems)
are winter squash (buttercup, Hubbard, turban, winter pumpkins).
Usually larger fruit with hard seeds, they ripen in the fall.
We have to peel them. They can be stored for several months.
- C. moschata (round stems) are also
winter squash such as butternuts, musky winter squash, and the
- C. pepo (pentagonal, prickly stem)
are summer squash: zucchini (Italian for sweetest), marrow, courgette
(French), yellow squash, ornamental gourds, crookneck, spaghetti
squash, and summer pumpkins. Usually soft edible shell and seeds,
they ripen in summer and need to be eaten soon after harvest.
Fun Facts about Squash:
- For pie, Pilgrims first hollowed out a pumpkin, filled it with
apples, sugar, spices and milk, then put the stem back on and
- One of the first published recipes for pumpkin pie (Pompkin
Pudding) was in Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American
cookery. This the first cookbook to be written by an American
and published in the United States.
- An average pumpkin weighs 10-20 pounds, though the Atlantic
Giant variety can weigh 400-600 pounds, enough for perhaps 300
- Presidents Washington and Jefferson grew squash in their gardens.
- The Hubbard squash was formally introduced to American gardens
by James J. H. Gregory (1857) from Marblehead, Massachusetts.
He became an authority on squashes, publishing in 1883, Squashes:
how to grow them.
- Squashes are a good source of minerals, carotenes and vitamin
A, with moderate quantities of vitamins B and C. Summer squash
is high in water content, thus low in calories.
And why is the game also called squash? It used to be called "Rackets" and
a “squashy" soft ball constructed of thin rubber was
used. It had a number of holes that caused the ball to collapse
when hit hard.
Resource: What is the history of squashes? (Oregon State
Discusses the distribution and archaeological finds of
the early squash species.
Vegetable Travelers - Originally published by National Geographic (1949), it
lists historical and cultural facts for 33 common vegetables.
Plantation. Thanksgiving History -
Image and audio presentation from Plimouth Plantation;
intended to help students understand what historians do.
Emphasis is on peeling away the myths of the harvest celebration
of 1621. Third-fifth grade level includes a Teacher’s
Pumpkins & Gourds - Notes (Purdue University. Dept.
of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture -
Agricultural fact sheet about squashes, including diseases
and pests, with bibliographic references.
- Three Sisters - From the University of Georgia. PDF.
- 'Tis the Season for Squash - Blog post by Jennifer Harbster, from Inside Adams at the Library of Congress.
Your Garden Grow (University of Illinois Extension)
http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/ssquash.cfm - summer squash
http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/wsquash.cfm - winter squash
Guide to growing, storing, and preparing vegetables. Describes
varieties, planting and harvesting, common questions, and
Caroline. Pumpkins & squashes: gardening, crafts
and recipes. New York, Reader’s Digest, 1997. 120
Cambridge world history of food. Editors, Kenneth F.
Kiple, Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas. Cambridge, UK, New York,
Cambridge University Press, 2000. 2 v.
Kathleen, and Sandra L. Oliver, with the Plimoth Plantation. Giving thanks: Thanksgiving recipes and history,
from Pilgrims to pumpkin pie. New York, Clarkson Potter/Publishers,
c2005. 192 p.
Catherine O’Neill, and Margaret M. Bruchac. 1621:
a new look at Thanksgiving. Washington, National Geographic
Society, c2001. 47 p. (Juvenile)
James J. H. Squashes: how to grow them. New York, Orange
Judd Co., 1883. 83 p.
Godfrey. A great & godly adventure: the Pilgrims & the
myth of the first Thanksgiving. New York, Public Affairs,
c2006. 212 p.
J.B., and N.A. Sidell. Mid-Holocene evidence of Cucurbita
sp. from central Maine. American antiquity, v. 61, Oct.
Rebecca. Blue corn & square tomatoes: unusual facts
about common vegetables. Pownal, VT, Storey Communications,
c1987. 222 p.
Rachel E., T’ai H. Roulston, and Grace E. Farris.
Farming practices influence wild pollinator populations
on squash and pumpkin. Journal of economic entomology, v. 98, June 2005: 790-795.
Amelia. American cookery … 1796. Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans, 1965. 94 p.
Bruce D. The initial domestication of Cucurbita pepo
in the Americas 10,000 years ago. Science, v. 276, May
9, 1997: 932-934.
more print resources...
Search on "squash," "squashes," "cookery
(squash)," "cookery (pumpkin)," "Thanksgiving Day," or
in the Library of Congress Online
Summer squash. Photo: SNAP-Ed Connection, Seasonal Produce Guide, USDA website.
Winter squash. Photo: SNAP-Ed Connection, Seasonal Produce Guide, USDA website.
squash plants in a greenhouse. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service website.
Squash bee - Peponapis and Xenoglossa, the so-called “squash bees” – are very common, often the dominant pollinators of many wild New World Cucurbita (the genus that includes squashes and gourds). Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service website.
squash plants. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Pumpkin Pie and various squashes.
Photo from the USDA Online
Pumpkin." Photo: Reed Tychonski. The American Folklife Center,
Library of Congress.
vendors with farm produce--melons, corn and squash. Photo:
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
of barn with harness and stored squashes, 1939. Photo: Prints & Photographs
Division, Library of Congress.
a winter squash. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service website.
from the same family as squash, are being grafted onto squash to
improve their firmness. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service website.