The humble squash is a plant often featured in harvest time displays and scenes, but its real beauty may be more than rind deep
Squashes are technically fruits, and are members of the cucurbitaceae family, which includes melons and cucumbers. As a family, the “cucurbits” are among the most widely cultivated crops worldwide and with good reason.
Perhaps the quintessential fall produce for table centerpieces, photo arrangements, and still life paintings, the pumpkin comes in a surprising array of shapes, sizes and colors–from off-whites to deep greens to battleship grays to black to the classic Halloween orange to mottled calicos that contains mixtures of all of the above. Beneath the pumpkin’s use as a decoration, however, resides a great deal of nutrition and versatility. Pumpkins and winter squashes in general offer respectable amounts of both alpha- and beta-carotene, nutrients that promote visual function. They also contain decent concentrations of carotenoids, a class of nutrients that have been linked to the prevention of several kinds of cancer.
Other Winter Squashes
In some parts of the United States, summer squashes are available locally up until October, while winter squashes begin to show up as the summer squash season wanes. While most stores won’t continue to stock pumpkins for very long after Halloween, winter squashes such as butternut squash and acorn squash are often available long into winter in groceries.
You Can’t Always Judge a Squash by Its Cover
In general, the brighter and richer the pigmentation of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutrient content. A notable exception among squashes is the butternut squash. Its typically pallid exterior belies the fact that there is cornucopia of phytonutrients inside. At 10630 IU per 100g, it packs about 350% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A. It is also rich in the B-complex group of vitamins, including folates, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamine, and pantothenic acid. Its mineral content is similar to that of the pumpkin, and contains a decent amount of useful elements like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
So if your intake of squash is usually limited to a slice or two of pumpkin pie during the fall and winter holidays, consider other ways of adding these formidable fruits to your diet. Winter squashes are equally at home in savory and sweet dishes and can be prepared and enjoyed in simple ways, such as cut in half, covered in foil, and baked, yielding a rich flavor that can be used as a side dish or on its own. Winter squashes can also serve as the base for bisques, soups, and fillings. And due to their firm consistency, they can be used as a substantial part of a main course, such as a stir fry. Apart from their value as food and eye candy once harvested, squashes can be fun to grow at home. Their big leaves, showy flowers and freakishly fast growing tendrils can add visual appeal to any garden space. And you get to keep or give away what you grow.