Cushaw Squash: The Versatile Pumpkin Alternative

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Cushaw squashes are famous for their unique fall-like flavor of pumpkins with a boost of sweetness like a sweet potato. Since it's not a commercially harvested squash, the best way to get your hands on this pumpkin alternative is to grow your own or check out your local farmer's market. 

What is a Cushaw Squash?

The cushaw Squash (Cucurbita argyrosperma) is a variety of winter squash like acorn squash, butternut squash, or pumpkin. It goes by many names, such as a cushaw pumpkin, crookneck squash, Native American heirloom squash, or sweet potato squash.

What’s most notable about this winter squash is it’s large and in charge. Some cushaw squashes can weigh up to 25 pounds!

While the green-striped cushaw squash looks similar to a watermelon on the outside, the flavors are reminiscent of pumpkin. It has a mildly sweet flavor, similar to a sweet potato. It’s often used in seasonal dishes like stuffing or pie; some find it tastes even better than pumpkin!

The History of Cushaw Squash

The cushaw Squash is an ancient crop; in fact, it’s one of the oldest crops on the planet! It dates back to 3,000 to 7,000 BC in Mesoamerica in Central America.

While it originated in Central America, it eventually made its way up to the States. Abraham Lincoln loved these squshes so much that he brought cushaw squash seeds when he moved from Kentucky to Indiana. Today, cushaw squash varieties are still growing at the Lincoln estate in Indiana.

Today, there is only a small commercial market for cushaw squashes. If you want to enjoy these seasonal squashes, the best way is to grow your own from seeds in your vegetable garden, just like the Lincolns.

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A young cushaw growing on the vine.

What Does a Cushaw Squash Taste Like?

The cushaw squash has a unique flavor similar to summer squash, chayote, or zucchini. It’s mildly sweet with a hint of smokiness.

Just like a pumpkin, these winter veggies are better cooked than when eaten raw. They have a hard, meaty texture and thick rind that’s better cooked than raw.

Cooked cushaw squash is incredibly tender and delicate, retaining its thick, meaty consistency. It tastes slightly sweet with an earthy, pumpkin-like note when cooked. The mild flavor of this gourd makes it a great cooking ingredient in purees, pies, and stuffing.

How to Tell When Cushaw Squash is Ripe

Here are a few quick and easy ways to tell if your cushaw squash is at the peak of ripeness. 

ColorA ripe cushaw squash has a darker green skin with white stripes that run from the neck all the way to the base. If it’s still yellow, it isn’t quite ripe.
FirmnessYou want your squash to be incredibly firm. Press your fingernail into its skin. If it doesn’t penetrate the skin, it means it’s perfectly ripe.
SmellThe smell test isn’t the best way to check for ripeness. Since the skin is hard and thick, it doesn’t emit much odor.
BruisingAn easy way to tell if your gourd is overripe is to check for a lot of bruising. If it’s overly bruised with cracks in the skin, it’s likely past its prime.

Is Cushaw Squash The Same As Pumpkin?

No, the cushaw squash isn’t the same as a pumpkin. They are more like related cousins.

The most significant difference between these two varieties of squash is their appearance. Pumpkins are more rounded and stout and come in shades of orange. The cushaw squash, on the other hand, has a long neck and coloring more similar to a watermelon than a pumpkin.

However, they are very closely related in flavor. Many home cooks swap out their pumpkins for the cushaw squash in seasonal dishes like pie and stuffing. The texture and flavors of cushaw squashes are very similar to that of pumpkins, though cushaw squashes are slightly sweeter.

Can I Eat Raw Cushaw Squash?

Yes, you can eat cushaw squash raw, but it doesn’t taste like much of anything. Like raw pumpkin, raw cushaw squash has a hard flesh with a bitter, earthy, and slightly astringent flavor.

Ideally, cushaw squash is best served in cooked dishes. Cooking it not only draws out its natural sweetness, but it also softens its tough meat on the inside.

Cooking with Cushaw Squash

So, how do you prepare one of these bad boys before cooking? All you need is a sharp knife and a little bit of patience.

Let’s dive into how to prepare a giant cushaw squash for some tasty recipes.

1. Wash out the outside of the gourd and remove any dirt and debris.

2. Using a sharp knife, cut off the neck of the squash and the tough skin.

3. Continue to cut the squash horizontally into slices and cut off any remaining rind.

Another great way to prepare the squash is to cup off the neck, scoop out its guts, and then bake until tender and the insides come out with a spoon.

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Cushaw pie is a classic Appalachian dessert that tastes very similar to pumpkin pie.

Once it’s prepared, you are ready to cook some of these fantastic cushaw squash recipes.

Sweet Cushaw Pie: Move over, pumpkin pie. This cushaw pie recipe has all of the festive feels of Thanksgiving, only better. It captures the seasonal essence of pumpkin pie, but cushaw squash is slightly sweeter and more flavorful. It’s like a cross between a pumpkin and a sweet potato pie.

Cinnamon-Baked Cushaw: It doesn’t get much easier than this cinnamon-baked cushaw. It pairs bright cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar seasoning in a buttery sauce. It’s creamy, sweet, and hard to resist.

Roasted Cushaw Squash: This roasted cushaw squash recipe is easy for a simple dinner side dish. It pairs sliced pieces of cushaw squash with a simple garnish of olive oil, rosemary, and salt. It’s slightly sweet, aromatic, and a great side dish to serve with grilled chicken or steak.

How to Store Cushaw Squash

Once harvested, cushaw squash will stay fresh in the fridge for up to four days.

If you want to extend its shelf life, a great way to preserve your squash is to freeze it. To store in the freezer, prepare your squash like you would before you bake it.

Slice it into pieces, and scoop out all the extra seeds. Once prepared, place it in a freezer bag to stay fresh for four to six months.

Nutritional Benefits of Cushaw Squash

Cushaw squashes are low in calories and high in essential vitamins and nutrients. One serving of cushaw squash has around 76 calories and is a wonderful fiber source. Diets high in fiber help to satisfy your hunger and promote good gut health.

In addition to its high levels of fiber, it’s a good source of Vitamin C. Diets rich in vitamin C boost your immune system, help you absorb iron, and promote collagen growth for healthy-looking skin.

Where to Purchase Cushaw Squash

Cushaw squash isn’t a widely available commercial crop like pumpkins, and it’s unlikely you can track them down at your local grocery store. Planting these autumn gourds in your garden is the best way to enjoy them.

Since this vegetable isn’t sold commercially, your next best option is to head down to your local farmer’s market. Cushaw squash peak season is between August through October, so keep your eyes peeled at the local farmer’s market between these months.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

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