Squash can be divided into two main groups, summer squashes, and winter squashes. A major distinction between the two is that summer squashes, with their soft tender, light-colored flesh, are picked while immature; winter squashes, with their hard shells and darker, tougher flesh and seeds, are not harvested until maturity. Both were extremely important to Native Americans for some 5,000 years and then to early European settlers, who quickly made the vegetables a mainstay in their diet. In the nineteenth century, merchant seamen retuned from other parts of the Americas with many new varieties. Squashes continue to be available in a great assortment of sizes, shapes, and colors, such as white, yellow, orange, green-brown, and even light blue. 

Some of the benefits to using summer squashes are they are low in calories, good sources of Vitamin C and Folacin, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Several of the common types can be used interchangeably. They should be small to medium size, be firm, and heavy, and be without nicks or bruises. The key to summer squashes is not to overcook. By leaving the skins on in preparation, they will provide some Vitamin A. Common summer squashes found in many a garden are the famous Zucchini, a medium to dark green skin squash that resembles a cucumber; Patty Pan, a greenish white disk shaped squash; Yellow Crookneck, a pale yellow skin with a curved neck; and Yellow Straightneck, a tapering cylinder without a curved neck and a flesh that is paler in color.

Winter squashes have a wider array of flavors and textures than summer squashes because of their protective shells. They are extremely easy to grow and are often harvested just before frost. They have a great shelf life, and will keep up to three months in a cool dry place. Winter squashes are very nutritious--high in Vitamins A, C, Folacin, Potassium, and complex carbohydrates. Some of the most commonly grown are Acorn, deeply ridged skin with dark green and orange markings, and a yellow-orange flesh; Banana, a large cylindrical squash with a thick pale yellow to ivory skin and a finely textured orange flesh; Buttercup, a turban-like cap with a striped dark green and a light green skin and an orange flesh, sweet but dry; Butternut, elongated bell-shaped squash with a tan rind and deep orange flesh.

Another squash, quite famous at Halloween is the pumpkin. Most are grown specifically for jack-o'-lanterns and are often too stringy and too large to use in cookery. For pie filling and other cooking needs, sugar pumpkins--a smaller, sweeter variety with a close-grained flesh--are much better. Most people prefer canned pumpkin, which tastes as good as fresh.

At last, for all those who didn’t have time or space for a garden, there is plenty of opportunity to experiment with squash. Most of the squashes described are readily available at local grocery stores. A little creativity or a good cookbook can open new taste treats for you!