Eggs of the Earth
By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent, UH CTAHR
Squash has been referred to as “eggs of the earth” and was domesticated before corn and beans, over 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s native to a broad area from the southern U.S. to South America, and was cultivated by Native Americans.
Categorized either as summer or winter squash, summer squash are varieties eaten when fruit and seeds are immature, such as zucchini, crookneck, patty, scallop, and others, while winter squash are those eaten when the shell is hardened and seed is fully matured. Some squash are grown for their high protein seeds, including the Japanese variety, Kakai.
Two popular winter squash species in Hawaii include Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata. Kabocha or Japanese squash is the most popular C. maxima in Hawaii, and resembles Buttercup squash but without the characteristic cup on the blossom end. Averaging two to three pounds or as large as eight pounds, the easiest way to tell kabocha from other squashes is its large handles or stem, and skin color from medium green to bluish, some with silver white stripes or flecks. Flesh color is usually greenish yellow to bright yellow.
Recent crosses with the Japanese variety, Ichiki Kuri has created bright orange-skinned kabocha, including Sunshine developed by Johnny’s Seed. Many Native American tribes had closely related varieties, including Arikara from the native American tribe of the Dakotas, Lakota from the Sioux nation, and candy roaster from the Cherokee of the Appalachians. Other C. maxima varieties include Buttercup, Banana, Uchiki Kuri, Boston Marrow, Hubbard, and Turk’s Turban.
Kabocha is rich in beta carotene, iron, Vitamin C, and potassium, and the darker orange the flesh, the higher the beta carotene or Vitamin A. Kabocha is cured to bring out its sweetness. When first harvested, they’re still growing and require about two weeks at warm temperatures of 77 degrees F to convert the starch to sugars. They are then stored at a cool temperature of 50 degrees for a month to increase starch content. They reach peak sweetness from 1 ½ to 3 months after harvest.
Curcurbita moschata is considered a tropical species requiring warmer weather, and include Butternut, Field Pumpkins, Seminole, Tromboncino, Long Island Cheese, and Calabaza or Puerto Rican pumpkin. Most of the varieties brought from the Philippines are of this species, and are quite variable in shape, size and taste. These are local varieties of a domesticated plant species which developed over time by adaptation to the natural and cultural environment in which it lives. Many seeds of these varieties are worth saving for the next season.
Diseases include powdery mildew, a fungal disease that wipes out the leaves, but the viruses are the worst, including Watermelon Mosiac Virus II, Zucchini Yellow Mosiac Virus, and Cucumber Mosaic Virus. Spread by aphids, they can severely stunt and kill plants. Whitefly-vectored viruses include Silver Leaf where leaves have a silver sheen to them. Some varieties are more tolerant to diseases than others. Insects are many and include the dreaded Melon Fly, melon thrips, pickle worm, aphids, mites, and more.
Winter squashes can be stored for long periods of time, which makes it an important vegetable for food security.