Delicata Squash

Indigenous to North and Central America, squash were introduced to early European settlers by Native Americans.  Delicata Squash was first introduced by a seedsman in the USA in 1894, but a fruit very much like those of this cultivar was illustrated by Naudin.  As a cultivar, is “more or less unique and is not readily classifiable in any one modern group.  The standard delicata is vinous; however, bush varieties have arisen including ‘Bush Delicata’, and seed sellers offer varieties with more sweetness as ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Honey Boat’.  Delicata squash almost disappeared after the Great Depression, and wasn’t widely grown due to its susceptibility to mildew diseases.  This was changed in the early 2000s, when a group at Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding, led by Molly Jahn, bred a non-hybrid open pollinated variety, Cornell’s Bush Delicata that was resistant to most known squash diseases, and won the 2002 All-America Selection (AAS), a seed-industry award and is now the primary commercial cultivar.

Delicata squash is a winter squash, “the cylindrical fruits, which are cream-coloured with green stripes, are of good culinary quality.”  As its name suggests, it has characteristically a delicate rind (or skin).  It is also known as peanut squash, Bohemian squash, or sweet potato squash.  Although consumed mature as a winter squash, delicata squash belongs to the same species as most types of summer squash known in the U.S.A., Cucurbita pepo.  This species includes pattypan squash, zucchini, and yellow crookneck squash, as well as the Jack-o-lantern pumpkins used on Halloween.

Delicata squash are easily grown.  Seeds are started after all danger of frost is past and the soil is warm or within 3–4 weeks before the predicted last frost date in the area.  Seeds directly sown are placed one inch deep, 5-6 to a hill; hills are 6 feet in all direction from other hills.  Roughly 105 days after germinating, delicata squash are ready to be harvested.  Curing takes approximately a week in a warm dry place such as a garage, protected from frost.

Delicata squash is most commonly baked, but can also be microwaved, sautéed or steamed.  It may be stuffed with meat or vegetable mixtures and is known for its ease of cooking and creamy flavor and texture.  The seeds of the squash are also eaten, usually after being toasted.  This squash is not as rich in beta-carotene as other winter squashes, but is a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as smaller amounts of vitamins C and B, magnesium, and manganese.

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