"The first zucchini I ever saw, I killed it with a hoe"
--John Gould in Monstrous Depravity (1963)
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion."
--Henry David Thoreau in Walden (1854), chapter 1 "Economy"
To read a full and completely ridiculous Victorian story by Mary Wilkins about how the Old World began eating New World pumpkins, click HERE.
And for the Countess of Winchilsea's reflections on atheism, gravity, and pumpkins, click HERE.
THE PUMPKIN TIDE
I saw thousands of pumpkins last night
come floating in on the tide,
bumping up against the rocks and
rolling up on the beaches;
it must be Halloween in the sea.
--Richard Brautigan, 1968
"To dream of pumpkins is a very bad omen."
--Richard Folkard in Plant Lore (1884)
"For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,
If it was not for pumpkin, we should be undone."
--American Folksong, circa 1630
Who would ever believe that pumpkins and zucchini could be brothers and sisters under the skin? But they are. Both are Cucurbitaceae (Latin for "gourds"). Their plants are pretty much identical. They grow under the same conditions. But whew! Their fruits are, literally, summer and winter apart.
They are also a "new world" food--sequestered for so many centuries from the barley, wheat, peas, lentils, rice, and vegetables of Europe and Asia. No wonder Hercule Poirot wanted nothing better than to spend his retirement years cultivating "vegetable marrows."
Native to Central America, squash had spread to North America by the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Grateful for the new food, they shortened its Native American name from askootasquash--meaning "eaten raw" in Algonquin and Massachusetts Indian languages--to squash, and immediately starting boiling and baking it. It was quickly adopted by Europeans in the Old World thereafter.
So what about SUMMER SQUASH, those fragile, thin-skinned beauties that are best picked fresh and eaten off the vine? They are all shapes and colors but can be pretty freely interchanged:
- Caserta: Dark yellow-green, about 8 inches long, with whitish flesh.
- Chayote: a light green mango-looking thing with furrowed skin. If it's young enough, you don't have to peel it. It's got a big seed in the middle that's edible. For more information, go to the Chayote FoodTale
- Cocozelle: These smooth, dark green zucchini look-alikes have greenish flesh.
- Courgette: British term for young zucchini.
- Cymling: Also called scallop, white, pattypan, or bush squash. They're small, pie-shaped, and scalloped--a little on the green side when they're young; white when older.
- Vegetable marrow: Belgian detective (of Agatha Christie fame) Hercule Poirot's term--along with the British nation--for mature zucchini.
- Yellow squash (that includes straight- or crook-necked; also golden): yellow on the outside; white on the inside; delicious and attractive sliced when picked young.
- Zucchini: dark green, shiny, and about 4-10 inches long, depending on varietal and harvesting.
And what about WINTER SQUASH? They should be eaten when fully mature--and when you are good and ready to eat them. They "hold" for a good long time after harvesting...and, of course, need to be peeled before eating. They can be pretty freely interchanged in soup recipes, though it's nice to distinguish among them too.
- Acorn: This is dark green, with orange markings and orange flesh. It's shaped as its called--but much bigger.
- Banana: Again, shaped like its name, but BIG--up to 18-24 inches. It has creamy orange skin; flesh likewise.
- Buttercup, or Turban: Shaped like a turban, it's a green striped saucer with a light-colored round knob on top. Its flesh is thin and orange--and wonderfully sweet.
- Butternut: This barbell looking thing has a light, smooth skin and thick orange flesh. It's fine grained with an excellent flavor.
- Delicata: A little oval squash with green and yellow stripes.
- Delicious: A big one--yellow or green--shaped like a top and with ridges. It has a light orange-yellow flesh.
- Gold Nugget: It's a hard round squash, like a small pumpkin, with fine-grained orange flesh.
- Hubbard: This is the really big one--is grown to hundreds of pounds for county fairs. In the market, though, it's big and roundish with a warty dark green to orangy skin and a sweet orange interior.
- Marblehead: A biggish round or oval-shaped squash with very hard greenish skin and yellowy flesh.
- Pumpkin: Big and deeply orange and deeply ridged--of all sizes--with yellow to orange flesh...once you scrape the candleburns off the inside of your Halloween jack o'lantern....
- Spaghetti: This golden football comes in all sizes--and can't fail to amaze when you scrape out those long squash strands from what looks like regular old solid vegetable matter.