Pumpkins have been grown for centuries and it is thought they originated in South America. Pumpkin and squash are often used interchangeably, however, the term pumpkin generally describes winter squash that is hard-skinned, hard-fleshed, mature fruit.
There are many different varieties available and while they vary in taste and texture, most can be used interchangeably in recipes. Flavour varies with variety, growing conditions and season. Therefore buttercup squash grown at Pukekohe may taste quite different to the same variety grown in Marlborough. Similarly, pumpkins grown in the same area may taste different each season.
Supermarket squash have a very dark green hard skin and are similar in shape to a buttercup squash, however, they have strong ribbed skin, whereas a buttercup is smoother. The skin can often change from green to an orangey colour with age. They weigh about 1.5kgs with a diameter of 10-15cm, have orange flesh and a very sweet flavour.
Buttercup squash has dark-green, hard skin with speckles and stripes and a round flat shape. Generally, they are 15-20 cm in diameter and weigh about 1.5kg. The flesh is a fine-textured orange to dark yellow with a slightly sweet flavour. Immature buttercups have paler flesh. The skin is softer than other pumpkin or squash types and therefore they have a shorter shelf life.
Butternuts have a creamy beige thin skin and an elongated shape which is thicker at one end. They have orange flesh and a sweet flavour which varies with variety, growing conditions and season.
Crown or grey pumpkin have a hard blue/grey skin, with deep orange flesh. Crown pumpkins are about 30 cm in diameter, 10 cm deep, and weigh about 4kg. The most common variety sold in New Zealand is Whangaparoa. Because of their hard skin, they keep well and are usually available all year round.
Spaghetti squash has pale yellow skin with a light yellow flesh and is 20-30 cm long. Either bake whole or cut into quarters and steam. Once cooked, spaghetti squash can be scooped out and incorporated into recipes and used like pasta. Spaghetti squash has limited availability and is generally available in the early months of the year.
Kumi Kumi is round to oval in shape with heavy ribbing. Immature Kumi Kumi is about the size of a tennis ball, have a nutty flavour, a speckled green soft skin with white-green flesh and are used like courgettes. Mature Kumi Kumi have a speckled green hard skin, are about the size of a netball, have a deep white flesh and are used like buttercup squash. Available December – April.
Halloween pumpkins have bright orange skin that is very hard and knobbly. The flesh is very dense and is deep orange in colour. The most common variety is Red Warren.
Mini squash or yumpkins are small and may have green, yellow or orange skins. There are many varieties of small squash that are increasing in popularity. Each has slightly different characteristics and flavour. Varieties include sun drop, orange minikin, red hub, sunset squash, sweet mischief, and white acorn.
Pumpkins and squash are a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, containing high levels of the carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin) which the body converts to vitamin A (some more than others). The stronger the colour of the flesh, the more carotenoids the pumpkin will contain. They are a source of folate, pantothenic acid and vitamin E, and contain potassium at levels of dietary significance.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Once cut, scoop out the seeds, wrap the flesh in plastic film and refrigerate.
Bake, boil, steam, microwave, roast, stew, stuff.
Pumpkin and squash are interchangeable and can be used in similar recipes. Some varieties have very tough skins that are difficult to cut so can be cooked with the skin on and then the flesh can be removed.