Acorn Squash History

Acorn squash has grown in popularity in recent years, but it has been a part of the culinary landscape since ancient times.

This delicious winter vegetable is enjoyed by cultures throughout the world for its nutty flavor, versatility, and nutritional value.

In this article, we’ll discuss the origin and history of acorn squash, along with some ways it is commonly used.

Pile of green Acorn Squash with the title "Acorn Squash History" overlaid

What is acorn squash?

Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata) belongs to the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family, which includes all varieties of squashes, melons, and cucumbers (1). 

Acorn squash is a type of winter squash – squashes that are harvested at full maturity at the end of the growing season and that have tougher skins and a longer shelf life, making them ideal for storing throughout the winter months.

While many of the other winter squashes are classified as Curcubita maxima, acorn squash (along with pie pumpkins, delicata, and spaghetti squash) are classified at Curcubita pepo, alongside summer squashes like zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and patty pans (2).

Acorn squash is harvested in the fall and early winter but is typically available year-round in major grocery stores. It has a shelf life of up to three months if stored in a cool, dark place.

The name “acorn squash” comes from the vegetable’s shape, which looks similar to an acorn – mostly round, with a slightly pointed end.

It has smooth skin, a vertically ribbed exterior, and is typically about 8 inches long and 4 to 5 inches across.

The skin is moderately thick but edible, and ranges in color from dark green to bright orange depending on the variety and its ripeness level.

While acorn squash is technically a fruit, it is used as a starchy vegetable when cooking.

Acorn squash has a firm yellow-orange flesh and edible seeds in the center that can easily be scooped out. 

When cooked, the flesh becomes soft and a little fibrous and tastes sweet and nutty, with a mild buttery flavor. 

The seeds can be roasted, similar to pumpkin seeds, and enjoyed as a crunchy snack.

Acorn squash is rich in vitamins and minerals, including manganese, potassium, and vitamin C, and is a good source of dietary fiber (3).

Other names for acorn squash include pepper squash, Des Moines squash, and Danish squash.

Where did acorn squash originate?

Acorn squash is native to North America, particularly Northeast Mexico, and the Southeast and Central United States (1, 4). 

Archaeological records suggest that it was first domesticated in Mexico, 8,000 to 10,000 years ago and Native Americans have been using squash, including acorn squash, as a staple food for at least 5,000 years (1, 5). 

Traditionally, acorn squash was boiled in water, baked over a fire, or mashed into a paste and added to soups, stews, and cornbread (5).

Squash, alongside corn and beans, is part of “the three sisters,” a trio of plants frequently planted together because they complement one another both nutritionally and agriculturally (6).

The word “squash” comes from the native American word “askutasquash”, which means eaten raw or uncooked (even though winter squashes, including acorn squash, are usually cooked) (7).

Native Americans introduced squash to early European settlers, who quickly began growing the vegetable for their own use. It is believed that squash was first brought over to Europe in the late 16th century.

According to Iowa State horticulture specialist Richard Jauron, a commercial variety of acorn squash made its way back to the United States from Denmark in the 1800s and was sold by the Iowa Seed Company of Des Moines (hence the alternate names, Des Moines squash and Danish squash) (8).

They called it the “table queen”, to be served alongside the “table king”, turkey.

Today, acorn squash is grown all over the world but remains especially popular in North America and Europe.

How is acorn squash used?

Acorn squash is a versatile vegetable that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. 

It can be prepared in a variety of ways, including baking, roasting, steaming, boiling, microwaving, and sautéeing.

A popular method is to slice the squash into halves or rings, remove the seeds, then drizzle with olive oil and bake or roast on a baking sheet in the oven between 350 and 425 degrees for 30-60 minutes.

Once cooked, the flesh can be enjoyed as a side dish, mashed, or added to soups, stews, casseroles, and even desserts like muffins, cakes, and pies.

Another option is to cut the squash into cubes before cooking. This makes it easier to add to salads, pasta dishes, and stir-fries. 

Acorn squash can also be stuffed with various ingredients such as rice, beans, or meat for a delicious and creative meal.

If you’re feeling fancy, cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and place a pat of butter and brown sugar inside the hollowed-out center before baking.

Celebrate national acorn squash day

Did you know that acorn squash has its own day of celebration in the United States? You can celebrate National Acorn Squash Day every year on September 7th.

Get in the spirit by selecting the best-looking acorn squash you can find and cooking one of your favorite acorn squash recipes.

Final thoughts

Acorn squash is a delicious and nutritious vegetable that has been around for thousands of years.

It originated in North America but is now found all over the world.

Whether you’re looking for a healthy side dish or a unique way to add flavor to your favorite recipes, acorn squash is an excellent choice. Give it a try!

Amy Richter is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Missouri. She is an experienced nutrition writer and medical advisor for Healthline and Medical News Today.  Amy is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys translating complex science into easy-to-understand articles.

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