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Question:

    How did the squash get its name?

Answer:    

    "Squash" comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means "eaten raw or uncooked."

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 Americas.

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 honey.

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 different species.

  • 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 cushaw.
  • 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 baked.
  • 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 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/tri054.html>
  • An average pumpkin weighs 10-20 pounds, though the Atlantic Giant variety can weigh 400-600 pounds, enough for perhaps 300 pies!
  • 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 1893, 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.

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Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Boisset, Caroline. Pumpkins & squashes: gardening, crafts and recipes. New York, Reader’s Digest, 1997. 120 p.
  • The Cambridge world history of food. Editors, Kenneth F. Kiple, Kriemhild Conee` Ornelas. Cambridge, UK, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000. 2 v.
  • Curtin, 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.
  • Grace, Catherine O’Neill, and Margaret M. Bruchac. 1621: a new look at Thanksgiving. Washington, National Geographic Society, c2001. 47 p. (Juvenile literature)
  • Gregory, James J. H. Squashes: how to grow them. New York, Orange Judd Co., 1883. 83 p.
  • Hodgson, Godfrey. A great & godly adventure: the Pilgrims & the myth of the first Thanksgiving. New York, Public Affairs, c2006. 212 p.
  • Petersen J.B., and N.A. Sidell. Mid-Holocene evidence of Cucurbita sp. from central Maine. American antiquity. v. 61, Oct. 1996: 685-698.
  • Rupp, Rebecca. Blue corn & square tomatoes: unusual facts about common vegetables. Pownal, VT, Storey Communications, c1987. 222 p.
  • Shuler, 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.
  • Simmons, Amelia. American cookery … 1796. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1965. 94 p.
  • Smith, Bruce D. The initial domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 years ago. Science, v. 276, May 9, 1997: 932-934.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "squash," "squashes," "cookery (squash)," "Cookery (pumpkin),"Thanksgiving Day," or Thanksgiving cookery" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Photo: baskets of summer squash.
Summer squash.

Photo: close up of a variety of winter squash.
Winter squash.

From Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day, Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

Plants growing on greenhouse tables.
Growing squash plants in a greenhouse. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Photo: a bee on the inside of a flower, taking pollen.
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: squash plants growing in soil.
Growing squash plants. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Photo:  pumpkin pie, with varieties of winter squash.
Pumpkin Pie and various squashes.
Photo: USDA Online Photography Center
Photo: young woman in a tiara posing with huge pumpkin.  Sign  with "King Pumpkin" in background.
797-pound "King Pumpkin." Photo: Reed Tychonski. The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Photo: African-American vendors with farm produce--melons, corn and squash
African-American vendors with farm produce--melons, corn and squash. Photo: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Photo: harness hanging on wooden wall.  Squash on the floor beheath.
Interior of barn with harness and stored squashes, 1939. Photo: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photo: orange colored squash being cut up.
Cleaning a winter squash. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service. Photo: ripe watermelon slices.
Watermelons, from the same family as squash, are being grafted onto squash to improve their firmness. Photo: USDA Agricultural Research Service.

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  November 7, 2013
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