WINTER SQUASH AND PUMPKINS ARE SIGNS OF AUTUMN
GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 16, 2016
You know fall has arrived when tree leaves start turning red and a variety of winter squash, including pumpkins, start showing up everywhere along with pumpkin lattes and a plethora of pumpkin culinary delights. What do you know about these “squashy” signs of autumn?
Do you know the definition of “squash” or, more exactly, the definition of a winter squash? If you check the dictionary, a squash is a member of the gourd family that has edible flesh. A winter squash is squash that is harvested when it is mature with fully developed seeds. When mature, a winter squash has a tough skin or rind that enables it to be stored for a month or more, depending on the type of squash and storage conditions.
From the botanist’s perspective, squash are members the cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) family. This family is native to South and Central American and may have been cultivated in these regions long before corn became a cultivated crop.
Squash have many cousins in their family including decorative gourds, utility gourds, cucumbers, melons, and summer squash. There are several different species of winter squash. The Cucurbita pepo species includes spaghetti, delicata, and acorn squash. Because most C. pepo squash do not have thick skin, they are not suitable for long term storage.
Winter squash with harder skins that store well for up to several months are the Cucurbita maxima species that includes hubbard, marblehead, buttercup, banana, golden nugget, Turk’s turban, and kabocha squash. Other species that store well are Cucurbita moschata that includes butternut, ponca, and waltham squash and Cucurbita argrosperma that includes cushaw squash.
All pumpkins are winter squash, but the term “pumpkin” is an inexact, nontechnical term that refers to a roundish winter squash with orange-ish smooth ribbed skin. However, not all winter squash that are called pumpkins are round and orange. Pumpkins vary in appearance, characteristics, and use.
Many pumpkin pies you eat come from pumpkin cultivars of C. moshata that have tan colored skin and an elongated fruit shape. This type of pumpkin is used to make canned pumpkin used in making pies and baked goods.
Gardeners trying to grow gargantuan pumpkins for giant pumpkin contests usually plant cultivars of C. maxima. These have creamy white to somewhat orange or yellow skin and a spongy stem. These pumpkins can weigh in at 100 pounds or more. Selections of the cultivar Atlantic Giant produces most of the winners of pumpkin contests.
The Cinderella pumpkin, also known as Rouge Vif D’Etampes, is an heirloom variety that has grown in popularity in recent years. It has flattened fruit with deeply furrowed orange-red skin. It is often used for decorating, but its flesh is supposedly good cooked or in pie. Other heirloom pumpkins on the market are the Jarrahdale pumpkin with blue green deeply ribbed skin and the warty Galeux d’Eysines with salmon colored skin. Both are a departure from the typical orange pumpkin and are reported to have tasty sweet flesh.
When it comes to carving look to the cultivars and hybrids of C. pepo with orange skin and a deeply furrowed woody stems. Also, most of the cultivars with “naked” seeds for eating come from C. pepo, as well as do the miniature pumpkins used for fall decorating. In addition, there are some cultivars of C. Pepo used for making fresh pumpkin pies.
This would be a good weekend to go get your winter squash and pumpkins, if you did not grow them yourself. I want to get one of the carving pumpkins with white skin, how about you?