Types of Heirloom Summer Squash
Summer Squashes are the fruits of various cultivars of the species Cucurbita pepo (a species that also includes hard gourd cultivars as well as a few types of pumpkin) that are picked immature and eaten as a vegetable. Summer Squashes are generally eaten cooked, whole, sliced or diced. Because they are picked when young, the skin of Summer Squashes is soft and thin and is generally not removed prior to cooking like you would with a pumpkin or other Winter Squash.
Summer Squashes won’t last as long in storage as Winter Squashes (their name originates from earlier times when they were stored to provide food into the colder months of Winter). Because of this, for best flavor, texture and freshness, Summer Squashes should be eaten as soon as possible after picking.
Besides their superior taste, the greatest aspect of growing heirloom Summer Squashes is that you can save and plant the seed from one year to the next and have them grow true to type with the same characteristics as the parent plant. When saving the seeds of your heirloom Summer Squashes, be sure not to grow them near other cultivars of the species Cucurbita pepo or you may end up with interesting, but less edible, hybrid plants. It’s also important to let the Squashes mature fully on the plant before picking them so that the seeds inside have a chance to fully develop. Any seeds collected from immature fruits meant for eating will unfortunately not be viable.
Sometimes to get decent fruit set and viable seeds you’ll need to hand pollinate the flowers of Summer Squashes. This is not too difficult to do, first find a male flower, you’ll be able to tell them apart from the females as they’ll be smaller and won’t have a swollen section (the ovary) below the flower. Next, take the male flower and tear off the petals, then dab the central anthers containing the pollen onto the central stigma of the female flowers. By doing this the pollen of the male flowers will be transferred and the female flowers will successfully develop into fruits.
The most recognizable types of Heirloom Summer Squash are Zucchini and Button Squash, but there are additional types that are as delicious as these, but not as well known. Lets take a look at some of the categories of Heirloom Summer Squash available:
Zucchinis, Courgettes, Marrows & Other Straightneck Summer Squash
The most common of all the Summer Squashes, this group includes Zucchinis (known as Courgettes in some countries), as well as some varieties of marrows and other straightneck squashes. Zucchini varieties come in a wide range of colors including white, pale green, dark green, grey-green, yellow and near black. Some varieties of zucchini are at their most sweet and tender when picked at only a few inches long, while others can be left to grow up to 20 inches long and still retain a good flavor and texture.
Some outstanding varieties of heirloom Zucchini and other Straightneck Squashes include:
‘Black Beauty’ This is the classic, almost black-skinned Zucchini variety which nearly every vegetable gardener has grown at some point. It’s ease of growth and wonderful versatility in cooking is what makes this variety a firm favourite.
‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ An All-American Selections winner from 1938, this variety has pale yellow, straight, club-shaped fruits with an excellent flavor. This variety also bears really early, as little as 7 weeks, making it a really satisfying variety to grow at home.
Ball Zucchinis are similar to, and come in a similar range of colors to straight Zucchinis but as their name suggest, they have round fruits and often don’t grow as large. Ball Zucchinis provide a novel alternative to straight Zucchinis, but still taste just as good.
Some outstanding varieties of heirloom Ball Zucchini include:
‘Rondo De Nice’ A popular Italian heirloom, the fruits of this variety are round and speckled-green in color. This variety has a pleasant, mild flavor that is never bitter and an excellent texture.
‘Tatume’ A great Mexican variety. The rounded fruits have ribs that give them an appearance similar to some varieties of muskmelon. This variety is very vigorous and disease resistance and the fruit have an excellent flavor when eaten young.
Button, Scallop or Pattypan Squash
The second most common group of Summer Squash seen on supermarket shelves, they are known variously as Button, Scallop or Pattypan Squashes. All of these names refer to the distinctive ribbed, flattened, saucer shape of these Squashes. They come in a wide range of colors including green, yellow, white and multi-colored varieties.
Some outstanding varieties of heirloom Pattypan Squash include:
‘Patisson Strie Melange’ Try to track these seed down, it’s an amazing mix of colorful French Pattypan Squash varieties. The fruits are striped and speckled with a mix of deep green, orange, yellow and white colors. When eaten young they have a great flavor, especially when grilled. They can be left to mature and harden to be used in decorative displays.
‘Yellow Scallop’ Bright sunny-yellow fruit with an excellent flavor and good yields. This is an ancient variety which was likely grown by indigenous Americans.
‘Gelber Englischer Custard Squash’ A yellow, German variety with an interesting-shape. They’re not as flat as other Pattypan Squashes, instead they’re almost like little cartoon ghosts.
Crookneck Squashes are like straightneck Squashes, just more crooked. The skin of Crookneck Squashes can be smooth or bumpy and they come in a range of colors with white and yellow varieties being the most common. Many Crookneck Squashes can be left to mature and eaten as Winter Squashes too, but the flavor of most is best when eaten young.
Some outstanding varieties of heirloom Crookneck Squash include:
‘Early Golden Summer’ A yellow, bumpy-skinned variety that has a distinctive bent shape with a clubbed end. This is an an early variety that is both extremely easy to grow and great tasting. This variety was likely first cultivated by Indigenous Americans.
‘Zucchino Rampicante’ An amazing, white-colored Italian heirloom that is long and thin with a ball-shaped tip. Due to its length this Crookneck Squash will often bend into a near complete loop. The flavor when eaten as a Summer Squash is tender and sweet. Its flavor becomes richer when left to mature and eaten as a Winter squash.
Cousa Squashes are similar to Zucchinis only paler in color, often with lighter speckles. Cousa squashes have a thinner skin and are slightly sweeter than most other Zucchinis, and most varieties are picked at a younger age. Due to these characteristics, Cousa Squashes are one of the best Summer Squashes for eating raw and are also great when sliced thin and added to salads. Cousa Squashes are popular in many South-East Asian and Middle Eastern countries, as well as in Mexico.
Some outstanding varieties of heirloom Cousa Squash include:
‘Magda’ A hardy, light green, middle eastern variety with an excellent, distinctively nutty flavor that is sweetest when picked young.
‘Trieste White’ A prolific, early producing, middle eastern variety with white fruits that remain tender even when left to grow bigger than most other varieties.
Pumpkin Type Squashes
This group contains some interesting Summer Squashes that resemble small pumpkins which otherwise don’t really fit into any other grouping. Most varieties can be eaten as Summer or Winter squashes.
‘Kamo Kamo’ A rare, traditional New Zealand Maori variety that when eaten young has a complex rich, nutty flavor.
‘Mongogo Du Guatemala’ This is a highly productive variety from Guatemala with striped, green fruits. Great eaten as both a Summer and Winter Squash. Also great for decorative use if collected when mature.
Hopefully you've enjoyed this introduction to the wonderful variety of heirloom Summer Squashes available and able to be grown at home, happy gardening.