Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata), pepper squash, or Des Moines squash are all different names for this vegetable. The plant belongs to the squash group called winter squash, but it isn’t named after it’s growing season. Instead, the category is named after its storage qualities. The squashes that fall under this category, like acorn squash, have tough skins, making it easy to store them through the winters, unlike summer squash.
Although it shares winter squashes’ properties, acorn squash is a small, sweet cultivar from the summer squash family (Cucurbita pepo). By the way, field pumpkin and zucchini are also part of the same family.
What is the acorn squash plant, and what is the history behind it? What are the various uses of this plant? Although acorn squash is used popularly as a vegetable, did you know it’s botanically considered a fruit? Keep reading, and you’ll find out everything about the cultivar before you plant it in your garden.
|Common Name||Acorn Squash|
|Botanical Name||Cucurbita Pepo Var. Turbinata|
|Plant Type||An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||12 To 24 Inches (About 30 To 61 cm) Tall, 4 Feet (About 1,22 Meters) Long|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||One That Is Rich In Nutrients, Loose And Drains Well|
|Soil pH||From 5.5 To 6.8|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, And 11|
|Native Area||North And Central America|
How Many Acorn Squash Varieties Are There?
You might only be familiar with the dark green, ridged cultivars. But you might be surprised to know that there are other varieties also. Varieties that have different colors, like orange and white. Here are some of the most common types of acorn squash that you might come across:
- Tay Belle
- Table Ace
- Black Bellota
- Festive Hybrid
- Autumn Delight
- Harlequin Squash
- Bush Table Queen
- Table King Squash
- Early Acorn Hybrid
- White Acorn Squash
- Heart of Gold Squash
- Golden Acorn Squash
- Heirloom Table Queen
- Cream Of The Crop Acorn Squash
Where Does Acorn Squash Originate From?
This 2-pound (about 900 gram) vegetable that grows extensive vines has been cultivated for centuries for its sweet, buttery flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. The acorn squash is native to North and Central America.
Records show that the vegetable originated somewhere around Mexico and Central America and was initially only used for its seeds. The seeds, which are usually discarded nowadays, were the parts consumed by the ancient Americans, while the flesh was thrown away. They considered the flesh too hard for consumption.
From Central America, this vegetable made its way into North America, where it quickly gained popularity. Its popularity was primarily because the seeds could be dried and stored for later use and carried through long journeys without losing their properties. Native Americans had started cultivating the crop since 8000 BCE.
When the European explorers returned from their voyages to the “new world,” they brought certain new foods, including corn and squash. Since the crop wasn’t much suited to the northern European temperatures, it didn’t become “trendy.” But, from Europe, the plant still spread across Asia and Africa.
Today, the common acorn squash variety called Table Queen was introduced commercially in 1913 by the Iowa seed company, Des Moines, Iowa.
What Does An Acorn Squash Look Like?
What an acorn squash plant is, and what does it look like? You should be able to recognize the plant before you grow it in your garden. Here’s an overview of the acorn squash plant.
Acorn squash grows as a trailing vine along the garden bed or can be trellised on vertical support. The plant grows extensively, taking up quite a lot of space on your garden bed.
After sowing the seeds, the harvest will be ready in around 80 to 100 days, giving at least 4 to 5 two-pound (about 900 grams) fruits to pick.
The large, umbrella-like leaves on an acorn squash are arranged alternately on the stems. Although squash leaves are often discarded, and we only consume the fruit, the leaves are also edible. They’re loaded with calcium, iron, vitamins, and magnesium and are just as nutritious as the acorn squash itself!
If you plan on consuming them, pick the young, tender leaves. They can be sauteed in oil and cooked until they turn tender enough to eat.
The large fruit that the plant produces is the primary attraction of the cultivar. Acorn squash takes around 85 days to ripen after you have sown the seeds in the ground. Fully ripened acorn squash has a dark green color with a hard rind, but there are also white and yellow varieties.
The distinct longitudinal ridges on the outer side of the fruit originate from the stem and go all the way to the bottom. The interior is a yellow-orange flesh that’s sweet and soft when you cook it, with a mild, buttery taste. The skin can also be cooked together with the flesh. It gets softer when it’s cooked and is as edible as the flesh.
Those large trumpet-shaped yellow flowers characterize squash plants. And acorn squash produces those same kinds of flowers before they give fruit. Like all other squashes, acorn squash is a self-pollinating plant, which means each plant has both male and female blossoms.
After the pollinators carry pollen from the male blossoms to the female flowers to set fruit on them, the male flowers are done with their job. Since they won’t be producing any squash, you might as well eat them! And Yes! The flowers of acorn squash are also edible!
Harvest the male flowers, which do not have an embryonic fruit at the base, and fry them. But don’t go overboard and fry them all! Leave some to fertilize the female blossoms and give some squash.
In What Conditions Does Acorn Squash Grow Best In?
So, where does acorn squash grows best, and what kind of conditions does it prefer? Learn all about their climatic preferences before you sow the seeds in your garden.
The vines grow best when the temperatures are between 70 to 90°F (about 21 to 32°C), and the plant is highly intolerant of frost. Wait until the danger of frost has passed, soil temperatures rise above 60°F (about 15°C), and then sow the seeds directly to the ground.
Remember that temperatures higher than those in the ideal range can cause the flowers to drop, preventing fruit production.
Gardeners like to sow the seeds directly in the ground two weeks after the last spring frost. In most regions, a second crop can be planted 12 weeks before the first fall frost. They’ll need a sunny spot to thrive, which receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.
Since they’re heavy feeders, make sure the soil is rich in organic matter. Lightly till and amend the garden bed with compost to a depth of about 8 inches (about 20 cm). Let’s not forget the soil pH, which should be between 5.5 and 6.8. If given the right conditions to grow, you’ll be able to pick your fresh harvest in about 2.5 to 2.5 months.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Acorn Squash?
Acorn squash is a healthy vegetable rich in nutrients, including fibers, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin C. But, is it equally beneficial for everyone? Are there any considerations on its consumption that you should know about? Let’s find out!
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Acorn squash is healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women when taken in food amounts. It’s a good folate source, making it an excellent addition to a pregnant woman’s diet.
Acorn squash is an excellent source of nutrients vital for a child’s growth and development. Best of all, parents can introduce the plant to their children when they are still relatively young. But, consumption may cause constipation in some children.
People With Allergies
Handling acorn squash is known to cause skin “tightness,” rash, or cracks in many individuals. Cooks and food handlers often wear gloves when handling acorn squash to avoid contact dermatitis.
People With Diabetes
Yes, and yes again, the plant is a beneficial one to include in your diet if you have diabetes.
Acorn squash isn’t toxic to your pets. The vegetable is healthy for your pets if offered in moderate amounts. Remember, though, that if your pet overeats it, it can result in kidney stones.