The Cushaw Squash
These Underutilized Green-Striped Squash are Great for Cooking, and for Deterring Pests in the Garden
Probably deep in the stages of REM sleep, my Tampa, Florida, friend MJ Clark suddenly woke up to the sound of a large object falling through a tree, building momentum and only halting to the asphalt street. With a flashlight in hand, she went outside to investigate. She met her neighbor across the street, who also was awoken by the commotion. Scanning the trees, shrubs and street, they found what appeared to be a splattered green pumpkin. Had this been vandalism?
Early the next morning, in better lighting, MJ went back out to examine the situation. Looking directly above the crime scene at her two-story loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree, there hung three similarly shaped fruits. She followed the vine, which led her 20 feet to her arbor, which was built next to her compost pile. There, she had been composting her niece’s rabbit droppings that had sprouted an unassuming squash-like vine, which now spanned 30-plus feet. Waiting a few more days, she harvested the three squash, which weighed close to 15 pounds each.
The squashes turned out to be green-striped cushaw (Cucurbita mixta), which MJ happily ate and shared raw, cooked, boiled and stewed. After eating the meat and seeds of the first one, she realized she “hit it big” and saved the seeds, which is how I grew my first green-striped cushaws last summer.
With an oblong shape, crooked necks and bulbous bottoms, the large vines are vigorous and produce well in the South’s warm summers. The skin is light green with mottled green stripes. The most attractive characteristics of the squash is the plant that is not only heat tolerant, but also resistant to the squash vine borer. Other squash and pumpkin that are not protected with pesticides succumb to the vine borer. This species of squash allows me to maintain being organic and worry-free. Cushaw squash are believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica several thousand years B.C.E.
I seeded two plants late last spring and planted them a foot apart in an ornamental bed. My hope was that they would spill over onto the unused lawn. Instead, they acted like their parent and sought out my 15-feet tall Feijoa (Acca sellowiana) tree. The vine growing energetically through the summer then cascaded back down to the ground where it grew leaves close together.
Other than the first week, I did not water the plant once. I never fertilized it and at one time aggressively pulled it off of my screened lanai. I pulled many large yellow flowers off the vines that were high in the tree to reduce the likelihood of fruit producing in my petite Feijoa tree. The flowers, which are palatable for humans, were fed to my bearded dragon, cockatoo and chickens. Flowers for human consumption can be stuffed and fried.
In the end I harvested two fruits, one off of each vine, and I couldn’t be happier. Getting out the bathroom scale, one fruit weighed three pounds and the other weighed 10. It’s as if I got 13 pounds of squash for three minutes of work. I have no doubt that I could have gotten a dozen squash if I had not removed so many flowers had fertilized and composted the area.
Direct sowing in large mounds of soil may have also produced more fruit. Companion planting for cushaws, much like other squash, include corn and beans, which help balance the nutrients in the soil. Daikon radishes and nasturtiums, an edible flowering vine, have also been noted as companion plants. Both of these plants deter pests such as aphids and beetles.
So far, the 10-pound fruit, which was cut into half, produced 20 cups of grated squash resulting in six large “zucchini” loafs. The other half of the squash is slowly being cooked with or eaten raw by humans and the skin is being fed raw to my chickens.
Cucurbita mixta and other cucurbits have many health benefits including being an anti-inflammatory. The beta-carotene in the meat and seeds may help with arthritis. The large amounts of vitamins A, C, E and zinc may also aid in keeping your skin healthy by stimulating new cell growth and reducing bacteria that causes acne.
I have read that it both stores well and that it does not store well. It reminds me so much of a standard zucchini that I would assume it does not hold up well for too long. The average fruits are 10 to 20 pounds, with a length of 12 to 18 inches. The flesh is yellow, sweet and mild. I would highly recommend growing this squash. It takes on average of 95 days to go from seed to fruit. Those living in northern states could plant it in spring, after the danger of frost. If you do not have access to MJ’s niece’s rabbit droppings, high quality seeds are available through many seed catalogs.
COOKING WITH CUSHAW
Boil cushaw until soft and add two cups to any boxed cake mix you like. Cook as usual according to directions. No eggs or oil are needed. It is delicious.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Yield: Makes 2 loaves
After grating squash place in sieve over a bowl to drain excess moisture while you prep the other ingredients. Use between 3 to 4 cups of freshly grated squash for this recipe. Four cups will yield a more dense and moist bread.
2 teaspoons butter for greasing the pans
3 to 4 cups grated fresh zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salted butter)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup dried fruit (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 5- by 9-inch loaf pans.
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and ground nutmeg.
In another container, whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir in the drained grated cushaw and then the melted butter.
Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, to the sugar egg cushaw mixture, stirring after each incorporation. Fold in the nuts and dried fruits if using.
Divide the batter equally between the loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes at 350°F or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.