I hope my friends and neighbors love summer squash. In the early spring craze this year that really just felt like winter, I bought what can only be described as a “value pack” of summer squash seeds in a craze of over anticipation of summer. I planted the starts, so innocuous at first, in a cell pack of 48 wells, and when the weather warmed up, I put half of the them in the ground all over my front yard, and gave the other half away, feeling that I was some harbinger-of-summer fairy. The plants leafed out, branched out through the yard, and the blossoms filled in the negative spaces with their bursts of golden yellow and ribs of light green. And then they came, the squash, with a vengeance. Please don’t misunderstand me—I love summer squash—stuffed blossoms, roasted squash, squash soup, ratatouille, shaved in salad…but now I’m hoping my neighbors, friends, and family do too. I have a growing pile in my refrigerator that keeps me up at night.
Summer squash and all its varietals are the same species—Cucurbita pepo. It is impressive to think that all those different shapes and colors—the gourd-shaped yellow summer squash, the elongated body of the zucchini, the golf-ball like gem squash, the seemingly paint-dipped zephyr, and the brioche tin-shaped patty pan are all the same species. This tremendously varied species also includes some fall varietals including some pumpkins, crook-necked, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata squashes.
Zucchini and several other summer squash like the light green striped coczelle and the caserta were given their names in Italy and other parts of Europe where those cultivars were developed, but the history of the squash, and even the name “squash” itself are deeply rooted in the history of the Americas.
The term “squash” is an adaptation of the Native American term skutasquash, a generic term for something that is eaten when it is still green, as in the dish succotash when corn, fresh beans, and squash are cooked together. The earliest evidence of squash cultivation was found regions in Mexico as early as 7,000 B.C., and was linked to the production of two other simultaneously produced foods—the climbing bean and maize, together known as “the three sisters.” These three items grown together not only provide complete nutrition, but also have a symbiotic relationship in terms of the soil-content management and growing space, and are the first known example of companion planting. The corn grows tall, providing a living pole and important starch source. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil, and proteins in the diet. The squash cover the ground, blocking sunlight from the soil and preventing weed growth, and provides nutritious folate, vitamin A, and potassium.
Columbus brought the squash to Europe, where it was especially well-liked in Italy, Spain and Greece, and eventually spread in popularity to France.
Summer squash is a vegetable that is as versatile as it is diverse. You can find several beautiful varieties in abundance from any number of our local farms at the Davis Farmers’ Market, Davis Food Co-op, or even at some farms’ stores.
Or you could e mail me and relieve me of some mine.
Usually I love to give food my garden away. I do it with pride. But this squash—I’ve been leaving it anonymously on doorsteps in the night. Is it my imagination or have my neighbors been returning my enthusiastic squash-fisted waves with half-hearted nods, carefully averting their gazes from me as they check their mail? I think I’m in deep trouble.