It’s interesting to learn how a vegetable’s cultivation and uses have evolved over time: take for instance the tomato and potato, which were considered poisonous until the sixteenth century. This week, we’re looking into acorn squash, a vegetable – although botanically a fruit –whose historical cultivation was purely for the seeds! Consider this: native Central Americans grew the squash primarily for seeds, throwing away the flesh! Now we silly North Americans eat only the flesh and throw away the seeds.
The acorn squash originated in Mexico and Central America. From there, it made its way across North America, where it was cultivated and highly prized. Since the seeds could be dried and stored, it became a valuable source of food during lean times and on journeys. Christopher Columbus is credited with introducing squash to Europe; and, though squash did not grow well in Northern Europe, squash cultivation did spread to the rest of the world, from Asia to Africa.
European settlers misunderstood the Native American name for squash and first thought they were eating melons. Early settlers in Massachusetts and Virginia made note of squash. Although they disliked it initially, they soon realized its incredible storing capabilities and tried new ways to prepare it. It soon became a staple in colonial gardens. It continues to be a popular home and market garden crop but is not widely grown commercially in the US. Argentina, China, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Romania, and Turkey produce acorn squash commercially. So far away! Consider this distance when selecting your squash.
We generally classify acorn squash as a winter squash while in actuality, it is a summer squash (like zucchini and yellow crookneck squash). Acorn squash is most commonly dark green, though Golden Acorn (with it’s yellow glow) and some white varieties are also available. Acorn squash gets its name from its distinctive shape. It stores well throughout the winter, if kept in a cool, dry location.
Acorn squash is most commonly halved, seeds scooped out, and baked; it can also be sautéed, steamed, and stuffed. Next time, save your seeds: rinse, dry, and toast them like pumpkin seeds.
Acorn squash is a good source of beta-caroteen, dietary fibre, potassium, vitamins C and B, magnesium, and manganese. Like winters squashes, acorn squash contains antioxidants: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutien, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Likewise, acorn squash also has anti-inflamatory, anti-diabetic, and insulin-regulating properties.