The English word “squash” derives from “askutasquash” (a green thing eaten raw), a word from the Narragansett language*, Similar words for squash exist in related languages of the Algonquian family such as Massachusetts.
Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita:
- Cucurbit. maxima (Hubbard squash, Buttercup squash, some varieties of prize Pumpkins, such as Big Max),
- C. mixta (Crenshaw 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. Some varieties of which are also called marrows (mainly in British English). Gourds are from the same family as squashes.
Though considered a vegetable in cooking, botanically speaking, squash is a fruit (being the receptacle for the plant’s seeds). 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).
Archaeological evidence suggests 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.
*Documented by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1643 publication A Key Into the Language of America.