The five species of cultivated squashes are divided into winter squash and summer squash, depending on when they are harvested. Summer squashes come in a large array of shapes and colors and include varieties like yellow squash, zucchini, pattypan squash, rondini (gem) squash, Styrian oil pumpkin, and decorative non-edible gourds. Determining whether a certain squash is a summer or winter variety is not based on any standard methodology, but rather on regional terminology and custom. For example, many German sources list spaghetti squash as a summer vegetable, while English-language sources usually consider it a winter squash.
All varieties of summer squash have soft, thin skin that is almost always edible. You can prepare summer squash many ways, from savory to sweet. Try them cooked in cream soups, stews, casseroles, or just lightly steamed. They are nice when added raw to salads or offered with dip as a snack. Summer squash can be baked into pies, cakes, and quick breads; and processed into preserves, jams, pumpkin seed pesto, or juice. You can also freeze summer squash or pickle it.1
When purchasing summer squash, look for ones that are heavy for their size and have shiny, unblemished rinds.3 One way you will recognize summer squash is by the ridged, hard stem. The stem on zucchini is a good example. Depending on the type, summer squash is available in stores year-round or in the summer after it is harvested.
Summer squash is harvested when it is immature and has a short storage life. You can store summer squash at 7 – 10 oC (45-50 oF) up to three weeks.
Summer squash is a good source of minerals and vitamins, and yellow squash is an especially good source of carotenoids.1 Cutting your summer squash into chunks, cooking it briefly, and adding a little fat to your summer squash dish will all increase the bioavailability of carotenoids. You only need to steam squash for one minute to release the fat-soluble micronutrients. This allows them to be easily absorbed.2
Summer squashes have a diuretic effect and aid digestion. The carotenoids and other key nutrients in the squash provide antioxidants and may help boost your immune system as well as offer protection from cancer and other illnesses.1,2
Pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds are traditionally used in medicinal applications to support bladder function. These preparations are used to relieve incontinence and bladder irritation, along with urination symptoms caused by benign prostatic hyperplasia (age-related prostate enlargement). These preparations have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiandrogenic properties.3
Paraphrased from German Wikipedia: Squash was named the 2005 Medicinal Plant of the Year.4
Summer squash is considered a variety of garden squash. This genus is native to North America, even though it is now cultivated worldwide, from the Mediterranean to the Near East as well as throughout North America, Central America, and South America. Summer squash thrives in tropical environments and is frost tender. The optimum temperatures for germination and "growing" are higher than those for plants that are native to Central Europe. Squash plants are heavy feeders, drawing large amounts of nutrients from the soil. Many gardeners find that the plants thrive when planted in heavily composted beds or in compost piles.4
Paraphrased from German Wikipedia: The five types of cultivated squash include the Cushaw pumpkin (Cucurbita argyrosperma), fig leaf gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia), winter squash including calabaza (Cucurbita maxima), winter squash including pumpkin and butternut (Cucurbita moschata) and summer squash (Cucurbita pepo). They are divided into winter squash and summer squash. Summer squash is harvested in the summer when immature and has a short storage life. Most varieties of summer squash belong to the genus Cucurbita pepo, which includes many different shapes and colors of squashes.5,4,6 Pumpkins and spaghetti squash are included in this group, as well as zucchini, pattypan, rondini, oil pumpkin, and the non-edible gourds.1
Winter squash ripen on the vines all summer and are harvested in the fall. They can be stored for a longer period.5
Summer squash types include cousa squash (a variety of zucchini), pattypan squash (scallop squash), tromboncino (zucchetta), crookneck squash, straightneck squash, and zucchini (courgette). According to the Lewis & Clark journal entry of October 12, 1804, the Arikara Indians (Arikaree, Ree) referred to summer squash as "simlin."
The fruit of the squash plant is sometimes classified as an epigynous berry (also called false berry) and can reach a weight of up to 30 kg. The fruit is usually yellow to orange-colored, with an elongated or round shape 15 to 40 cm in diameter. Other shapes and colors also occur.4,6,7