Squash Named from an Indian Word
0ur word "squash" comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked." Although the Indians may have eaten some forms of squash without cooking, today we like our squashes cooked.
The late-growing, less symmetrical, odd-shaped, rough or warty kinds, small to medium in size, but with long-keeping qualities and hard rinds, are usually called winter squash. They belong, almost without exception, to the species Cucurbita maxima or C. moschata.
The small, quick-growing forms that are eaten before the rinds and seeds begin to harden are called summer squash and belong to the species C. pepo.
Pumpkins also belong to that species, but large, late, smooth, symmetrical forms of C. maxima and C. moschata are sometimes called "pumpkins" regardless of species.
The word "pumpkin" -improperly pronounced "punkin" by most Americans, including myself- is derived from the old French term pompion, meaning eaten when "cooked by the sun," or ripe. In modern French, pumpkin is called potiron.
Spread from South and Central America
All three species of squashes and pumpkins are native to the Western Hemisphere. C. maxima, represented now by such varieties as Hubbard, Delicious, Marblehead, Boston Marrow, and Turks Turban, apparently originated in northern Argentina near the Andes, or in certain Andean valleys. At the time of the Spanish conquest it was found growing in such areas and has never since been found elsewhere except as evidently carried by man.
Unlike maize and tomatoes, this species had not been carried into Central or North America or even northern South America at the time of discovery of the New World. It was unknown to the Old World until the 16th century, and the oldest known definite record of it is dated 1591.
Since this is a plant that requires a fair amount of hot weather for best growth, it has never become very well known in northern Europe, the British Isles, or in similar areas with short or cool summers. Only long-vining plants are known in this species.
C. moschata, represented by such varieties as Cushaw and Winter Crookneck Squashes, and Japanese Pie and Large Cheese Pumpkins, is a long-vining plant native to Mexico and Central America. This species and C. pepo apparently originated in the same general area, Mexico and Central America. Both are important food plants of the natives, ranking next to maize and beans. The flowers and the mature seeds, as well as the flesh of the fruit, are eaten in some areas.
Before the advent of the white man, C. mosckata and C. pepo had been carried over all parts of North America where they could be grown, but they had not been carried into South America as had beans, which originated in the same general region. They were generally grown by Indian tribes all over what is now the United States. Many of these tribes, particularly in the West, still grow a diversity of hardy squashes and pumpkins not to be found in our markets.
Although winter squashes are grown in many lands today, they are relatively unimportant with few exceptions. They are grown extensively in tropical America, in Japan, and in certain districts in the United States. The calabazas of the West Indies and the forms grown by the natives of Mexico and Central America are not of uniform, pure varieties such as we grow, but are extremely variable as to size, shape, color, and quality. Since these species are normally cross-pollinated, it is difficult to keep a variety pure.
In Japan just after World War II I found squash growing on trellises over the doorways or on the sides of houses, at the foundations of burned-out buildings where vines can grow over the ruins, and beside and over small streams on horizontal trellises of poles.
Much "Pumpkin Pie" Is Really Squash
The largest "pumpkins" grown and bragged about are often C. maxima, really squashes; and much of the pumpkin pie we eat is made from C. maxima, squash. The best commercially canned "pumpkin" is not pumpkin but Delicious, Boston Marrow, or similar squash. The flesh of these varieties of squash is much richer and more nutritious than that of pumpkin.
Several years ago a North Dakota horticulturist bred a small variety of turban squash as a substitute for the sweet potato, which does not thrive on the northern Great Plains. This little Buttercup squash has flesh surprisingly similar to sweet potato in taste and quality.