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Crop of the Week: Summer squash
• It is generally accepted that squash is native to the Americas. Remains have been found in Central America and Mexico dating as far back as 7000 BC. From its southern origin, squash spread throughout North America. The plant found its way to Europe when the early explorers returned home.
• The name squash is apparently derived from the Algonquin “askoot asquash,” meaning “eaten green.”
• Squashes come in many different shapes and colors, including tan, orange and blue. There are many kinds of squashes, all part of the genus Cucurbita.
• Summer squash, relatives of both the melon and the cucumber, come in many different varieties. While each type varies in shape, color, size and flavor, they all share some common characteristics. The entire vegetable, including its flesh, seeds and skin, is edible. In addition, some varieties of the squash plant produce edible flowers. Unlike winter squash, summer squash are more fragile and cannot be stored for long periods of time.
• In Yuma County, squash acreage is small, but overall cucurbit acreage totals about 10,000 acres.
• The cucurbit family is somewhat confusing because of its great diversity that includes pumpkins, squashes and ornamental gourds. Flowering occurs on separate male and female flowers and bees are a vital part of pollination. Because bees can carry pollen from any number of squash cousins, the crosses among them can be quite interesting if seeds are planted the following year. Such a cross resulted in the delightful winter squash Swan White Bale Queen a few years ago.
• Less than 30 years ago, summer squash was hardly recognized in the United States. Today, it is not only widely recognized but a particular favorite of home gardeners. Notwithstanding its prolific growing nature, its popularity is probably due in large part to its versatility as a vegetable as well as its use in breads and desserts.
• Summer squash has a mild, nutty taste. Crookneck and straightneck squash have creamy white flesh and generally have yellow skins, although sometimes you can find them with green skin. Crookneck squash is partially straight with a swan-like neck. It was genetically altered to produce its straightneck cousin.
• When purchasing summer squash, select those that are heavy for their size and with a shiny, unblemished skin. Purchase summer squash that have a soft rind and are of average size. Those that are overly large may be fibrous and those that are overly small may be inferior in flavor.
• Summer squash should be handled with care as small punctures will lead to decay. It should be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about seven days. While it can be frozen, this will make the flesh much softer. To do so, blanch slices of the squash for two minutes before freezing.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.