The name ‘squash’ derives from the Massachusett Native American name ‘askutasquash’ meaning eaten raw. As any vegetable grower will tell you, there are a baffling number of different species of squash or ‘Cucurbita’ to use their grouped botanical name. The most common species grown in the UK is ‘Curcurbita Pepo’ and includes the courgette, marrow and certain pumpkins.
Another species, ‘Cucurbita Moschata’, is thought to be the earliest species, with fossilised remains found in Mexico dating back to 5000BC, and in Peru from 3000BC. Plants in this group include one of my particular favourites, the Butternut Squash.
Europe and the Squash
All squashes owe their lineage to the new-world, and the early Spanish invaders in the 16th Century were the first to bring them over to Europe.
However it seems that it was the Italians who first decided to eat immature marrows, or as they called them, the Zucchini. The name courgette is originally a French word and was only ever refereed to in Italics, denoting it as a foreign word, in English cookery books. This was until the food writer Elizabeth David dropped the Italics in the 1950’s, meaning it was really excepted as a British vegetable. It was similar in the United States, the courgette being introduced by Italian immigrants and perhaps a testament to this is that in America it still bears the Italian name ‘Zucchini’.
The name pumpkin is thought to come from the French word ‘pompon’, a word derived from the Ancient Greek ‘pepon’. The true Halloween pumpkin is from the ‘Cucurbita maxima’, a winter squash species. However pumpkins seem to exist in almost every cultivar of Cucurbita. The people of the Pacific Islands grow a green pumpkin and the leaves of the plant, as much as the fruit, are an important source of nutrition for the island’s inhabitants.
Squash Species in Brief
C = Cucurbita
As I am the only one at self-sufficientish with a Nutrition qualification I was given the task of writing nutritional information for marrows and Courgettes (zucchini). The trouble is they are mostly water (90%) and therefore really aren’t that nutritious. They supply an amount of dietary fibre and, although they do contain some, they are considered to yield very low amounts of vitamin C.
Other fruits of the squash family with coloured skin or flesh, including yellow Courgettes, contain carotenes such as beta-carotene. Beta-carotene (and all carotenes) is converted into vitamin A in the body and acts as an important source of this vitamin for vegetarians and vegans.
Seeds as a Food
Despite the flesh not being too nutritious the seeds of C.pepo (marrow) can be eaten and contain B vitamins, some minerals and around 45% unsaturated fat and about 25% protein. I have never eaten marrow seeds myself (yet) but they are widely eaten in parts of Central and South America where they are eaten raw, roasted and fried. In Central America they are used in the creation of a sweet called pepitorio. I have however eaten pumpkin-seeds and I assume that they are very similar and I would therefore suggest they could be toasted on a dry pan for use in salads. If you have a pet rodent then they will go crazy for pumpkin, squash and courgette seeds. I have a Gerbil and pumpkin seeds are by far his favourite food.
This year I have been growing butternut squash, courgette (Zucchini) and Pumpkin’s all from seed.
First of all plant the seeds into small plant pots roughly 10cm (3.5 Inches) in diameter with the pointy bit facing up. Put a few seeds in each pot as you can get rid of the weaker plants in favour of the stronger, and you should be guaranteed t least one coming up. I also tried leaving them in warm water for a couple of hours and in a plant feed overnight. I’m not really sure if that helped at all but it did not harm them. Use a good compost and cover with some clingfilm and put on a window sill, or at least somewhere that gets natural light and where there is no chance of the temperature falling to freezing point. Water them every day, although not with filtered water (I tried this as an experiment on a few but have since found out that the chemicals in the filter are not good for plants).
You can plant them straight out, but only in places that can guarantee about three months frost free weather.
When you see three leaves on the plants then it is time to plant them out. Ideally the soil ph level should be 6-6.75 and there should be plenty of organic material. One trick that I have learnt is to dig a ditch for your courgette, zucchini or marrow plant about 1m (3 feet) in diameter and about 15cm (half a foot) down. These plants are very thirsty critters and this will help them get the maximum benefit for any rainfall or watering. I have just read that they need ten liters (two gallons) of water a week – this is most essential when the plant starts to flower and crop.
Different varieties will need differing amounts of room. I have pumpkin plants growing into my potato plant at the moment, and there is one area of dense leaves from a courgette plant, a squash plant and pumpkin plant – whenever it flowers I am never sure what plant it is from. A pumpkin needs the most amount of space and I am told that as they are climbers you can get them to grow up a sturdy structure. Although I have never tried this, I can see it working in theory. Give a courgette plant about a 1m squared spot and anything from 1m to 3m for the squash and pumpkin depdant on the variety, or perhaps try and let it climb.
Each plant will grow big yellow male and female flowers so try and ensure that you have attracted enough bees and wasps to aid pollination. Alternatively you can pick up the flowers that have fallen off and pollinate them yourself.
When you are picking your crop, cut it off with a sharp knife as you may damage the plant by cutting it.
To summarise, these plants need rain, no frost and some sun. So water in dry weather – try and keep to the roots as the leaves will get mildew if you water them. I water as the sun is going down to minimize this. Plant out after the risk of frost has passed and keep them in a sunny spot.
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