A Squash for Every Season: 12 Powerhouse Gourds to Gorge On Through the Year

If you like pumpkins and other squash, chew on this unsavory thought: you may not have been able to eat these delectable gourds had they gone into extinction thousands of years ago. Once a mainstay of mastodons and giant ground sloths, squash almost disappeared with their predators when the landscape changed. A few remaining seeds kept them around, allowing the crop to be domesticated by humans.

Today, squash is marked more by its season than its intriguing past. Although it can be eaten all year long, squash is planted, harvested, and picked during certain seasons and classified by when it's best to consume. But whether you prefer spring, summer, winter, or fall squash, one thing's
for certain: you can't go wrong adding gourds to your diet. And with so much variety and nourishment in this versatile fruit-used-as-a-vegetable, you'll get to spread out the goodness yearlong.

Here are 12 squash worth your attention--and appetite. Gorge on these and see how, no matter what time of year, you can get heaps of tasty nutrition from a historic, ordinary food staple.

Winter Squash
Winter squash refers to gourds that are planted in warm weather but harvested before the first frost. You can store them in a cool, dry place and enjoy them for months. What's especially notable about winter squash is their colorful appearance--from bright oranges to deep yellows and greens--and rich, nutritious flesh, which has powerful anti-cancer benefits, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. The seeds have something to tout too: chock-full of protein, soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they can be roasted for a healthful snack. The versatility of winter squash dates back to the Native Americans, who ate the flesh, flowers, and seeds and used the outer shell for utensils and containers. Nowadays, winter gourds are typically baked or roasted to bring out their flavor and texture.
 
Here are four top-ranked winter squash not to miss:
  1. Butternut squash. The brilliant orange flesh and sweet flavor of this popular gourd may be its claim to fame, but butternut squash has a host of health benefits too. It's abundant in beta-carotene, cancer-fighting alpha-carotene, and vitamin C and no slouch when it comes to fiber, with more than six grams per cup. Its mild flavor goes well in any number of dishes, from stews to smoothies.
  2. Hubbard squash. Hubbard squash is easy to spot. It's the large gourd--reaching up to 20 pounds in weight--with the dark green, orange, or blue rind. But don't be intimidated by its size; hubbard squash contains a pleasantly sweet, grainy flesh that's perfect for everything from pureed side dishes to filling for a pie. A fan favorite? Sauté diced hubbard in olive oil with onions, garlic, and rosemary for some savory hubbard hash.
  3. Acorn squash. Probably the healthiest winter squash of all, the acorn variety offers ample doses of folate, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, not to mention more potassium in a cooked cup than two bananas. You can't mistake this gourd, as it's shaped just like its name. Choose a squash that's heavy for its size with a good balance of dark green and orange coloring.
  4. Banana squash. Considered a superior gourd, banana squash can be used in place of other winter squashes, including butternut and kabocha squash. Resembling a banana in shape, this gourd can measure as long as three feet. Its nutrient-rich flesh has an earthy, sweet flavor. As large as this gourd gets, the seeds inside are few and far between, making it convenient to eat, whether sliced and roasted, baked, or grilled.
Spring and Summer Squash
Claims the National Gardening Association, summer squash are "prolific, reliable producers" that grow fast--often maturing within two months of planting. They are harvested when immature and tender. While they continue to produce through the summer months, they don't store well, so you'll want to consume them soon after you buy them.

Summer squash, many of them available in late spring too, come in an array of shapes and colors. They deliver when it comes to nutrients and antioxidants, which make them a standout for fighting disease. They're also low in calories, carbs, and sugars. If you're heading to the farmer's market this spring and summer, you won't want to bypass these varieties of squash:

  1. Zucchini. By far the most common summer squash, zucchini boasts a range of important nutrients, including vitamins C and A, manganese, and potassium. Zucchini also contains anti-inflammatory properties that help fight heart disease and carotenoid antioxidants to maintain good eye health. Resembling a cucumber, zucchini can be used in many dishes or eaten alone. Its high-water content makes zucchini a great weight-loss food and digestive aid, too.
  2. Yellow squash. Another common summer squash, yellow squash comes in crookneck and straightneck varieties, both with similar textures and flavors. Packed with vitamins A and C, fiber, and bone-strengthening manganese, yellow squash is a nutritional powerhouse with versatile uses. Fry it, grill it, or slice it and toss into spaghetti, chili, salads, soups, or a vegetable medley.
  3. Chayote squash. Pear-shaped and pale lime green, chayote squash is nearly 95 percent water--which, along with plenty of folate and vitamins C and K, makes this gourd excellent as a diuretic for gas and bloating as well as heart-protective. It can be eaten raw, like an apple, or sliced, boiled, and seasoned as a vegetable.
  4. Pattypan squash.With a strange name and an even stranger shape--resembling a disc-shaped UFO--pattypan squash has many of the same nutrients as other summer squash, with more vitamin A and cell-dividing folates than zucchini. Also known as scallop squash, pattypan can be sliced for salads, stuffed with mushrooms and herbs, or used in pies. Choose small pattypans, since they cook more easily and can be eaten whole.
Fall Squash
Though many squashes available during autumn get categorized as winter squash, they pop up at the market late summer through early fall. These gourds pack a punch when it comes to nutrients and don't lack in looks or versatility, either. You might pick up a squash or two to adorn your
home and kitchen counters and tabletops for some festive fall decor.

While pumpkins may be the favorite and most well-known gourd of autumn, there are several other varieties that deserve recognition--and a place at your dinner table during the fall months:

  1. Carnival squash. Its colorful, speckled rind makes the carnival squash look as fun as its name. But inside, you'll find a wealth of nutrition and rich, buttery flavor. Carnival squash is actually a hybrid of the sweet dumpling and acorn squashes and tastes similar to a sweet potato when roasted. Another notable perk? It's one of the cheapest gourds you'll find.
  2. Delicata squash. Cylindrical with green stripes, you can't mistake the delicata gourd--and you won't want to. This easy-to-cut, clean, and cook squash make it convenient to eat, plus its creamy texture rivals no other. Either roast these gourds or stuff them with savory fillings, including herbs, nuts, and cheese, for a delicious meal or side dish.
  3. Sweet Dumpling squash. They say the best things come in small packages, and this may be true for sweet dumpling squash. It's petite in size, at less than two pounds, but has a tender rind that's edible along with a satisfyingly sweet flesh. You can do just about anything with this gourd--bake, steam, mash, or stuff it. Or, put it on display; the tiny, green-striped gourd makes an attractive fall decoration.
  4. Kabocha squash. Shaped like a small pumpkin, kabocha squash comes in green and red varieties. This Japanese gourd has a distinct chestnut-like texture and a honey sweet flavor. It cooks up like custard, which makes it ideal for pie filling. Because of its small size, kabocha squash is especially useful for single servings or to feed a small family.
Squash is a versatile, year-round food that can boost your health, inspire your taste buds, and keep your kitchen colorful, festive, and nutrition-filled. Enjoy these gourds of goodness through the seasons and make eating squash a health habit you won't regret.
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