A Brief History of Squash
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Ever wondered where squash came from? Pumpkin pies, butternut squash soup, pumpkin bread, stuffed acorn squash and more are popular and nutritious dishes that we enjoy every fall, especially around Thanksgiving. The history of the vegetables responsible for all this fall goodness is fascinating.
Squash seeds from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago have been discovered in caves in Mexico and Ecuador. Squash as we presently know them were bred from a wild ancestor that resembled gourds in their inedibility for humans (though there is evidence that mastodons enjoyed eating them). After the megafauna became extinct in the Americas, the wild squash declined but humans bred up modern type squash in a fairly short amount of time.
As a nutrient rich staple, squash spread from Central America in both directions and became a mainstay in the food supply for the entire Western Hemisphere. Its importance cannot be overstated. Squash plants can be very productive and squash themselves can be eaten during all stages. The blossoms, the first small green fruit (eaten as summer squash) all the way to the mature squash are edible. That mature squash also keeps well for the whole winter. Before refrigeration and deep freezes, the only way to have vegetables all winter was to have good keepers. Squash have kept untold numbers of people alive during the "starving time" at the end of winter.
By the time the Europeans arrived, squash had long been a staple in the North and South American diet. The word "squash" comes from the Narragansett word askutasquash. European settlers didn't think much of squash when they first encountered it, but after a few New England winters they discovered a fondness for it. The first known pumpkin pie recipe was published in a cookbook by Amelia Simmons in 1796, but written references to it go back to 1655. New Englanders also stewed pumpkins, added dried pumpkin to numerous dishes and made pumpkin ale. The present pumpkin pie spice craze is nothing new.
Squash, along with potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco and chocolate, were exported to Europe and beyond. It's tolerance to many environments and high nutritional value gained many fans. Soon squash recipes featured in numerous cookbooks and periodicals. Today squash of various types is part of the world food supply.
So the next time you dive into a plate of spaghetti squash and pasta sauce, think back to the end of the last Ice Age and the origin of the delicious meal in front of you.
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