THANKSGIVING - PART IV
Pumpkins and squash are two Native American foods that grace our Thanksgiving table. Pumpkins come from Mexico...and squash? Read on and find out!
Pumpkins and squash -- another delicious gift from Native American agriculture.While squashes of the genus Curcubita can be found everywhere, the orange version, the pumpkin, is one of the many culinary gifts that Mexico has given to us.
Green and yellow squashes (from the Narragansett word "asquutasquash," and not from the word meaning to flatten -- squashes are hardly flat!) were originally cultivated in North America before the introduction of the Mexican imports, pumpkin and corn. The squash was one of group of seven plants which were domesticated by the Native North Americans around 2000BC, or perhaps even earlier. Genetic studies have revealed that the acorn and butternut squashes that we eat now are descended from the wild gourds that are plentiful weed plants in the Plains states, while the pumpkin comes from a different, Mexican lineage.
To learn more about the archeological hunt for the ancestors of these squashes, and the development of agriculture in North America, visit https://www.thoughtco.com/domestication-history-of-the-squash-plant-172698, and take a look at the sources at the end of the page. This page https://www.thoughtco.com/eastern-north-american-neolithic-171866 details more about the Eastern North American neolithic food domestication process.
The squash blossom is one of the few edible flowers -- to find out more consult the website: https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm. The warnings on that page are important!
|Zucchini flower by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0) — https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zucchini_flowers_-_stierch.jpg|
Pumpkin and other thick skinned squashes are also called winter squashes, because their thick skins allow them to resist the cold, so they can grow in winter. Summer squashes, like zucchini, have thin skins, and grow in the summer—and they are not picky about growing conditions, as anyone who has had more than enough of them at the end of summer knows!
Do pumpkins and squash have nutritional value?Members of the Curcubita family are low in fat, high in carbohydrates and rich in beta-carotene, which gives may of hem their orange color. The body transforms beta-carotene at a rate that corresponds to the body's needs. Incidentally, when I was working as a pediatrician, parents would come to me with babies who were bright orange. Turns out that they were offering their babies orange squashes as their first solid food. Beta-carotene had accumulated in their skin!
The nutritional value of beta-carotene has been the subject of much debate among scientists—you certainly need beta-carotene, but how much? Scientists originally suggested that large amounts of beta-carotene might be effective in preventing cancers because of its anti-oxidant properties. This suggestion led to three controlled studies, which showed either no effect, or in the case of smokers, an increase in the development of lung cancer. Subjects in these studies received large amounts of beta-carotene in a supplement—much more than you would get in a slice of pumpkin pie. See: Incidence of Cancer and Mortality Following α-Tocopherol and β-Carotene Supplementation—A Postintervention Follow-up. JAMA. 2003;290(4):476–485. doi:10.1001/jama.290.4.476.
So I like pumpkins and squash -- now how do I cook the them?Just as there are for succotash and turkey, there are many, many recipes for the squashes on the web, which you can find using your favorite search engine.
Pumpkin and squash can be made into soup; they can be added to a number of different main and side-dishes, and baked into bread, and then of course there is pumpkin pie.
I've made mine with a graham cracker crust as well as with a regular pie crust, and once I even made one with a chocolate cookie crust—it was deee-licious! [Chocolate goes well with the hot-receptor-activating spices in the custard.]
One tradition my family and I have enjoyed is the addition of raisins to the pumpkin custard in the pie, but if you do add raisins, be sure to plump them up. My personal preference is to plump them up in a cream sherry—just soak them overnight in the sherry, drain and add to the custard mix. Then when you eat the pie you get little bursts of sherry flavor with each bite—a simple version of molecular gastronomy's "pearls."
Oh, and one year we had a guest who was lactose intolerant—lactose-free milk made for an excellent pie filling, although the result was somewhat lighter in color than usual, because part of the brown color of the pie filling comes from the reaction of the lactose with the protein in the milk and and eggs as the pie cooks.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving foods; if at all possible, share your good fortune with others; and most of all, to all of you from all of us:
HAVE A HAPPY THANKSGIVING!