Recently, a unique variety of winter squash is becoming quite trendy – the delicata squash. Delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo), also known as peanut squash, sweet potato squash, and Bohemian squash, is celebrated among squash lovers for its thin skin and sweet, velvety flavor. The name ‘delicata’ comes from the vegetable’s delicate skin, compared to other squashes.
But what is the delicata squash plant, and has it just appeared recently or been around for centuries? Where does it grow, and how is it used? There are plenty more things you want to know about the plant that gives these beautiful, delicious squashes to enjoy. Continue reading, and you’ll learn all about this plant.
The delicata squash isn’t a unique species. Instead, it’s only a single cultivar of the species Cucurbita pepo. The same species also includes several other winter and summer squashes, including acorn squash, most pumpkin varieties, and spaghetti squash.
The fruit of the delicata squash plant is rich in vitamins, fibers, potassium, and beta-carotene and is used in various ways. You can serve it baked, roasted, boiled, steamed, or stuffed with cheese or meat and bake it. It also works well in desserts. Let’s learn more to explore the reasons behind its recently renewed popularity.
|Common Name||Delicata Squash, Peanut Squash, Sweet Potato Squash, Bohemian Squash|
|Botanical Name||Cucurbita Pepo|
|Plant Type||An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||10 – 12 Inches (25 – 30 cm) High With A 24 – 28 Inch (61 – 71 cm) Spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||Fertile And Well-draining Sandy Soil|
|Soil pH||From 6.0 To 6.8|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||8, 9, And 10|
|Native Area||North And Central America|
What Are The Different Delicata Squash Varieties?
The delicata squash is itself an heirloom variety of the Cucurbita pepo species. It’s a winter squash that has been bred over the years to develop several different cultivars within the category. Some of the named varieties of delicata squash include:
- Sweet Dumpling (Good Stuffing)
- Honey Boat (Very Sweet Variety)
- Sugar Loaf (Oval-shaped Sweet Variety)
- Cornell Bush Delicata (Award-winning Bush Variety, Disease-resistant)
History Of Delicata Squash – Disappearance And Revival
Though the delicata squash has resurfaced over the recent years, it’s not a new variety. Delicata squash is native to North and Central America and was introduced into Europe through the early European settlers who came to the Americas. Seeds became available in the USA in the 19th century when Burpee Seed Co. began selling ‘delicata’ seeds in 1891.
Although the variety grew popular during the early 20th century, it brought its issues, and the fame did not last long. It was vulnerable to mildew diseases, and the yield wasn’t optimal either. The variety almost vanished after the Great Depression of the 1930s.
During the early 2000s, Cornel University showed interest in the seed and reintroduced it to the world. Under the leadership of Molly Jahn, plant geneticist and breeder, Department of Plant Breeding, Cornell University bred a new Delicata squash variety. This unique variety, called Cornell’s Bush Delicata, was non-hybrid and open-pollinated.
Since it was resistant to the typical squash plant diseases, commercial food growers welcomed it with enthusiasm. The particular cultivar won a seed-industry award in 2002 called the All-America Selection (AAS) and is still the primary cultivar used for the commercial production of delicata squash.
What Does the Delicata Squash Plant Look Like?
The delicata squash is typically a vining monoecious annual, but bush varieties are also available, including the most popular one, Cornell’s Bush Delicata. They can grow to a height of 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) and attain a spread of about 24 – 28 inches (60 – 71 cm), depending on the variety.
The plant appears much like other squash plants, with a shallow, branched root system extending from the central taproot. Large, thin, lobed leaves, tendrils, and large yellow flowers are notable features of the delicata variety.
Delicata squashes produce large, thin leaves, alternately arranged on the heavily branched stems, marginally toothed and lobed just like those on other squash cultivars.
Each leaf is typically 8 to 12 inches (about 20 to 30 cm) long and 4 to 14 inches (about 10 to 35 cm) wide. Tendrils extending at 90 degrees from the leaf insertion help the plant climb walls and trellises.
The delicata squash plant is monoecious, which means that both male and female flowers are borne on the same plant. The bright yellow flowers are big and showy, typical of squash plants.
The cultivar is grown for its cylindrical, fleshy fruit. Each fruit can range from small to medium in size, about 4,5 – 6 inches (about 12 – 15 cm) in length, and 2 to 2,8 inches (about 5 – 7 cm) across. It’s long and narrow, with smooth skin, creamy yellow, streaked with vertical green lines. Different from many other squashes, the skin is thin and edible. Without the hassle of peeling, it’s one of the favorite squash choices in many kitchens.
The flesh of it is sweet and firm, in color ranging from yellow to orange. The hollow cavity at the center contains many cream-colored flattened seeds. When cooked, it tastes sweet and velvety, much like sweet potato, which is why it’s sometimes called sweet potato squash.
The plant is consumed in a variety of ways. You can serve it stuffed and baked, roasted, steamed, microwaved, or fried. Since it’s wonderfully sweet, it also makes a great addition to desserts, especially pies and cakes.
In What Conditions Does Delicata Squash Grow Best In?
Delicata squash has a short growing season. The vines or bushes progress quickly, maturing and giving fruit within 80 to 100 days. They can grow in a variety of different climates, as long as there’s no frost.
Though the vining varieties take plenty of space to spread, the bush varieties work perfectly for a small garden. Here’s some extra growing advice you’ll find helpful.
Delicata squash needs a warm growing season to thrive. Plant the seeds in the garden once the spring frost has passed and the daytime temperatures are consistently above 70°F (about 21°C). At lower temperatures, germination will be slow, and there are also chances that the seeds may rot.
Soil And Sun
Choose a site with full sun where the ground is well-draining and amend it with plenty of compost to enrich the soil with nutrients. Gardeners usually plant it on one square foot round, flat-topped mounds.
Water And Fertilizer
The mound is kept moist during germination. Once the seedlings emerge, regularly water the plants throughout the growing season each time the top 2 inches (about 5 cm) of soil dry out. Water the plants deeply each time to promote profound growth of the roots.
Amend the soil with plenty of compost before planting. Side-dress with aged manure or compost once the plants are at least 6 to 8 inches (about 15 to 20 cm) tall. This will help replenish the soil with nutrients for healthier fruit development.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Delicata Squash?
Delicata squash isn’t just a delicious and beautiful veggie; it’s also very nutritious. The vegetable offers plenty of essential nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, and vitamins B and C.
It’s also an excellent source of dietary fibers. Since it’s low on calories, delicata squash is also great for weight loss. Overall, it’s an incredibly healthy addition to your diet.
So we already know the benefits of eating delicata squash. But, are there any side effects you should know about? Are there any medical conditions in which the consumption of delicata squash should be avoided? Let’s find out.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Delicata squash is an excellent nutritious food for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Among other healthy nutrients, it’s also rich in folates, important for building your baby’s cells.
Peeled, deseeded and cooked delicata squash is an excellent first food for babies. It can be started as soon as the baby starts taking solids. The sweet flavor and the creamy, smooth texture make it perfect for babies.
People With Allergies
Allergies linked to the use of delicata squash are rare. But, some individuals may feel an itchy rash on the skin when handling winter squashes. If you experience any itching or swelling, contact a doctor.
People With Diabetes
Winter squashes, including delicata squash, have a low glycemic index, making them a preferred food for people with diabetes.
The delicata squash plant is non-toxic to animals, so you can safely grow it even if you have pets roaming around in your garden.
Featured image credit – © James – stock.adobe.com