Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita native to Mexico and Central America, also called marrows depending on variety or the nationality of the speaker. These species include C. maxima (hubbard squash, buttercup squash, some varieties of prize pumpkins, such as Big Max), C. mixta (cushaw squash), C. moschata (butternut squash), and C. pepo (most pumpkins, acorn squash, summer squash, zucchini). In North America, squash is loosely grouped into summer squash or winter squash, depending on whether they are harvested as immature fruit (summer squash) or mature fruit (autumn squash or winter squash). Gourds are from the same family as squashes. Well known types of squash include the pumpkin and zucchini. Giant squash are derived from Cucurbita maxima and are routinely grown to weights nearing those of giant pumpkins. For more details, refer to list of gourds and squashes.
Archaeological evidence suggests that squash may have been first cultivated in Mesoamerica some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, and may have been independently cultivated elsewhere at a later date. Squash was one of the "Three Sisters" planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops.
Summer squashes, including zucchini (also known as courgette), pattypan and yellow crookneck are harvested during the growing season, while the skin is still soft and the fruit rather small; they are eaten almost immediately and require little to no cooking.
Winter squashes (such as vegetable spaghetti, butternut, Hubbard, buttercup, ambercup, acorn, spaghetti squash and pumpkin) are harvested at maturity, generally the end of summer, cured to further harden the skin, and stored in a cool place for eating later. They generally require longer cooking time than summer squashes. (Note: Although the term winter squash is used here to differentiate from summer squash, it is also commonly used as a synonym for Cucurbita maxima.) The squash fruit is classified as a pepo by botanists, which is a special type of berry with a thick outer wall or rind formed from hypanthium tissue fused to the exocarp; the fleshy interior is composed of mesocarp and endocarp. The pepo, derived from an inferior ovary, is characteristic of the Squash Family (Cucurbitaceae). In culinary terms, both summer and winter squashes are generally considered as vegetables, even though pumpkin may be used for pies.
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