Where does squash come from?

October 1, 2020

The squash family includes some of the largest and most diverse fruits in the plant kingdom.

Where does squash come from? - a photo of orange squash in a pile. The squash on the top is cut in half.

From its wild origins in Central America and Mexico to the hundreds of different varieties grown around the world today, the squash family includes some of the largest and most diverse fruits in the plant kingdom and is a significant source of food for many cultures.

Butternut, Hubbard, pumpkin, acorn, and patty pan are some of the more familiar squash varieties but hundreds more are cultivated around the world. Variety in colour, texture, size, and taste make squash a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in many different ways – baked, pureed, roasted, fried or even dried. Squash is prized for its nutrition, with high levels of vitamins A and C, niacin, riboflavin, and iron. Squash can also be stored for long periods of time. In fact some thicker skinned varieties can keep for months without spoiling!

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Squash fun facts

Squash like to mix things up!

Members of the squash family are pollinated by insects and are notorious for cross-pollinating with each other. This means that pollen from the flower of one variety of squash can get transported via insect to a different kind of squash where it can fertilize that plant. The squash that grow from these plants will still resemble what you expect them to. The only evidence that there has been any cross-pollination will occur the following year if you plant the seeds harvested from that squash. Those seeds contain the genes from two different squash parents and will therefore produce fruit with characteristics of both.

If you want to produce squash seed that’s “true-to-type” – i.e., not a mix of different types of squash – you must make sure each variety is isolated from each other by at least 1,500 metres. Or, if you don’t have a kilometre and a half to work with, you can pollinate your plants by hand to ensure specific pollen transfer.

But even if squashes do cross-pollinate with different varieties many people appreciate and nurture the resulting variation in their squash crop. This random mixing is what has led to the evolution of many beautiful and delicious varieties over time.

Squash bee

As the practice of growing squash spread across the Americas, the native squash bee travelled with it. The squash needs the bee for pollination and the bee needs the squash for food in the form of pollen. Recently the squash bee and its relatives have declined in number, likely due to pesticide sensitivity, and most commercial plantings are now pollinated by European honey bees. Swapping one bee for another has had some success but the honey bees still don’t appreciate squash pollen as much as squash bees and will often choose to visit other flowers instead.

The original Jack-o’-Lantern was not a pumpkin!

The practice of etching art into a gourd is believed to have originated in Ireland. Scary faces were carved into turnips, potatoes, rutabagas and beets, and filled with embers to frighten off evil spirits. Immigrants brought this tradition with them to the Americas. They soon found that pumpkins, native to their new home, made the perfect Jack-o’-Lanterns.

Happy halloween poster featuring a squash seed dressed up as a hero. The seed is wearing a medical face mask and holding a jack-o-lantern.

Have a safe Halloween. Download a sign for your door!

No matter how you’re able to celebrate Halloween this year, we encourage you to do so safely.

Download and print this sign for your door. You can fill in the blank spot to give instructions to visitors and trick-or-treaters.

Is it a fruit or a vegetable?

While most people consider squashes a vegetable they are botanically speaking a fruit.

Eat the flowers

Squash flowers are entirely edible and are eaten fresh as well as fried, steamed, baked, and stuffed with filling.

Squash recipes

Where does squash come from? - Image of a pile of squash in various shapes and sizes.

Savoury roasted acorn squash

Serves six

Courtesy of Genevieve and Jim, Our Little Farm, Lochaber-Partie-Ouest, Que.

1 acorn squash
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove top of squash, slice in half, and scoop out seeds. Slice the squash into half moons about a 1/2 inch thick. Place squash in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and spices, and toss to evenly distribute the spices. Arrange the squash on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until soft and starting to brown.

Cranberry acorn squash

Courtesy of Dan Brisebois, Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm, les Cèdres, Que.

1/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 small apple, cored, chopped
2 Tbsp raisins
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp butter
pinch of salt
1 acorn squash, halved, seeds removed

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Combine cranberries, apples, raisins, juice, maple syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan. Heat until berries are just tender. Place squash in bake pan. Fill cavities with fruit. Cover dish and bake until squash is tender, about 35-45 minutes.

Lentil and Butternut Squash Salad with Kale, Blue Cheese and Roasted Grapes

Serves six to eight

Courtesy of Dan Jason, author of The Power of Pulses

Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds, is one of Canada’s best known organic seed farmers. His book, The Power of Pulses, provides tips for gardeners wishing to grow and save their own pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, favas and lentils) as well as a collection of delicious and creative recipes. Earthy and hearty, this warm salad is especially lovely in cooler months. For a particularly beautiful presentation, layer the ingredients on a large platter. Skip the blue cheese and make it vegan.

1 small butternut squash, medium diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups black lentils, rinsed and picked through
3 cups water
1 Tbsp butter or oil
1 sprig thyme
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes
10 cups torn kale leaves, rinsed
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). In a medium bowl toss butternut squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet until squash is tender and caramelized, about 35 minutes.

Combine lentils, water, butter and thyme in a medium pot. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and allow to sit covered until cool.

In a 200°F (95°C) oven, bake grapes on a parchment lined baking sheet until they’ve shrunk by half, about 40 minutes.

In a food processor or high-powered blender, combine shallot, garlic, mustard and vinegar. With the machine running, slowly drizzle oil through the feed tube to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, massage kale leaves by hand with three tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Spread kale on a platter and layer with lentils, squash, grapes and blue cheese. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.

Three Sisters Soup

Courtesy of the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum

2 cups canned or fresh corn, drained
2 cups canned or fresh cut green beans
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 cup pasta shells
1 potato, peeled and diced
6 cups of water
3 vegetable broth cubes
2 tsp roasted garlic and peppers seasoning
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Place the corn, green beans, butternut squash, and potatoes into a pot, and pour in water and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and add the pasta and the seasoning. Simmer until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Blend flour into the butter, then stir into the soup. Increase heat to medium, and cook for five more minutes, or until the soup thickens. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Pumpkin Cookies

Courtesy of the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum

1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg. Stir in pumpkin puree. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Gradually stir in the flour mixture into the creamed mixture along with the milk. Blend thoroughly but do not over beat. Drop cookie dough with a spoon on greased cookie sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes. Let cool before serving. Yields approximately three dozen cookies.