While most of us are familiar with the basic different kinds of squash like pumpkins and zucchini, many people don’t realize how many varieties of squash there actually are. All types of squash are generally bountiful plants that grow and yield plenty of fruit, if you know what to plant and when to plant it.
Squash comes from the gourd family, and it is unique in that the fruit, seeds, flowers and even some varieties’ vines may be cooked and enjoyed.
What are the Primary Squash Types?
There are dozens of different varieties of squash. And while each one is planted late spring through early summer, when to harvest squash falls into two main categories, summer or winter. The difference between summer and winter squash is simply when to harvest. As its name would imply, summer squash thrives and is ready for picking in the summer months. Winter squash isn’t as forthcoming with its name, however. It actually matures during the cooler fall months each year and is only named “winter” squash because its thick, hard shell means it can last much longer, well into winter months, than its soft-skinned summer sibling.
Summer squash is tender and ready to be harvested at the height of the warm summer season. Though some varieties may have slightly subtle differences in flavor, they all tend to share a nutty, mild-in-taste quality. All summer squash have thin skin, as they are picked before the outer layer has a chance to toughen up. Summer squash can be eaten raw or cooked.
Cousa squash is pale yellow or light green, short oval squash that are touted by many as the best-tasting squash available. They are quite a bit shorter and squatter than zucchini, and while they look similar to their greener cousin, cousa actually tastes more like a yellow squash.
Cousa has a lighter texture than zucchini and this Middle Eastern squash variety is great sauteed, stuffed or steamed.
Pattypan (Scallop Squash)
Pattypan, or scallop squash is notable for their distinct flat, saucer-shaped form and bright yellow, white or green color. They are mild in flavor and have a lovely hint of buttery flavor when cooked. They’re known for their crunch and are firmer and a bit meatier than some other summer squash varieties.
Pattypans are delicious roasted or grilled. Smaller ones can be cooked whole, and larger ones can be sliced and sauteed or even stuffed.
While technically a winter squash, tromboncino is one of the few winter varieties that can also be harvested during the summer months. Ironically, though it is intended to be a winter harvest with a hardened rind, it has more flavor when harvested earlier in the season when it is just 8 – 12 inches long. It is sweeter than zucchini but the two can be interchanged in virtually any recipe with great success. It is an Italian heirloom and its long, curled, curvy neck doesn’t have seeds.
Tromboncinos are aggressive and should be trellis-trained or they could end up taking over your garden.
Zephyr squash is a fun, brightly colored two-toned squash hybrid of yellow crookneck, yellow acorn and delicata squash. The top half is intense yellow, and the bottom half resembles a zucchini. It is long and cylinder-shaped and has a mild flavor with creamy, sweet skin. It is great prepared any of the ways you would prepare yellow squash.
The darling of summer squashes, zucchini is one of the most widely-known and popular squashes available. It flourishes in almost any circumstance, producing a huge bounty off just one plant. It is one of the most versatile varieties, too. Use it in soups, pastas, summer stews, salads, grill it, saute it or bake it. Zucchini is even known for its delicious contribution to sweet breads and cakes.
Winter squash is probably most famous for being symbolic of fall. From pumpkins and gourds to any number of other varieties, winter squash varieties are known for their sweet tender insides and their tough outer shells. They are much firmer and tend to be quite a bit more dense than their summer counterparts, and they are also much sweeter. Winter squash can be prepared a number of ways and are used in soups, casseroles, sweets, salads and more.
Acorn squash may be the third most popular winter variety after pumpkins and gourds. It is hardy and dark green on the outside and resembles the shape of an acorn. Its yellow-orangish flesh on the inside is excellent roasted or stuffed. Acorn squash has a bit of a sweet, mild flavor and pairs well with most of the flavors of fall.
Buttercup squash is a smaller, rounded squash that is light green with bright orange flesh. When it is cut open and raw, its smell has a striking resemblance to cucumber. Unlike some other types of squash, buttercup becomes very dense when cooked. It is wonderful mashed and sweetened or roasted with butter and syrup.
Butternut’s pretty pale peachy outside and long cylinder shape is what gives it its unique, distinct look. Once harvested, butternut needs to be stored for several weeks to allow its flavor to enhance and develop. They will last for months, making them a great option to keep on hand for quick additions to winter meals all season long. They make a fragrant, favorite winter soup and pair nicely with sage and other herbs. You can bake, sautee, puree or roast butternut squash.
Delicata squash is pale yellow creamish in color with striking dark green stripes along the length of them. They are roughly 3 to 6 inches long and are very tender with a flavor and texture somewhat similar to sweet potatoes, but with a subtle earthy flavor. They are so tender even their rind is edible. Sautee, stuff, steam, roast or bake delicata.
The most well-regarded of winter squashes is the pumpkin. Whimsical bright orange and white outers with deep orange flesh, pumpkins come big and small, and not all are best for eating. The smaller, rounder sugar pumpkins are ideal for pureeing for pies, cookies, sweets and soups. Whereas the larger, denser varieties are of course the ones more well-suited for carving and decorating porches.
Fun for all ages, spaghetti squash is precisely what it conjures up when hearing the name. Baked and then shredded into strands, spaghetti squash has a striking resemblance to spaghetti noodles. It is an uncanny substitute for the real-pasta-deal. Smothered in marinara or other pasta sauce and sprinkled with grated cheese, it’s a fun twist on a winter night meal classic.
With near year-round deliciousness that never gets old, squash is a garden-gift that keeps on giving. Whether you’re more of a summer squash aficionado or the type who loves the hardiness of the thick-skinned winter varieties, squash is a great addition to any garden. Ready to plant some squash for the next growing season? Check out Gilmour’s extensive line of gardening watering products that make maintaining and growing squash in your garden a snap.