A few notes on nomenclature: If you hail from Britain or a place formerly under British rule, you’re likely to refer to all winter squash as “pumpkin.” The same idea applies to Spanish-speaking cultures here, in Central America and in parts of the Caribbean, where it’s generically referred to as calabaza. On this side of the pond, Anglos tend to make the distinction between jack-o-lantern pumpkins and the many other varieties of winter squash.Share
Don’t let the word “winter” fool you: Winter squash is actually harvested in autumn before a hard frost and stored for later. When most people had root cellars, they would harvest the squash in the fall and store it through the cold season, hence the name.
And the botanical difference between winter squash and summer squash? Very little. They’re both from the same plant family, cucurbita, and both ripen on a vine, but look and act like they’re from different tribes. Zucchini and the summer varieties have tender skin and almost nonexistent seeds and can be eaten raw. Winter varieties boast tougher skins, larger seeds and a flesh that needs to be cooked.
Squash is most likely native to Guatemala and Mexico and surrounding areas dating to 10,000 years ago.
According to cookbook author and Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy, calabaza is one of the earliest known foods to be domesticated in pre-Columbian Mexico. However, it may have been the seeds that were sought after, not the flesh, which would make sense, given the central role pumpkin seeds (pepitas) play in moles and other sauces throughout Mexico, particularly in the Yucatan.
It is believed that Christopher Columbus brought squash to Europe. (Read entire post.)