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What are the differences between a pumpkin and a squash?

If we are being totally honest, there is not much difference at all. The main difference would be the appearance and skin texture. The pumpkin stem is very hard and jagged, whilst the squash stem is a little hollow and much lighter and softer. Otherwise, they both belong to the same plant genus, Cucurbita, but varieties grow in different regions of the world.

Choosing Pumpkins or Squash

I would always suggest that you buy pumpkins, in particular, direct from the grower or in a farmers market. They are bound to have been grown with love and the utmost care, as these would be a farmer’s livelihood, so it’s great to chat with them to find out the best uses for the varieties they produce. It’s cheaper too!

It’s best to choose one that is still pretty hard. You shouldn’t pick a pumpkin where the skin is soft, nor one that has bruises, spots or other damage. It should have a light patch where it would have been growing, such as a warm amber-yellow or orange. A pumpkin should never be green when ready.

The confusion really arises with squash – so many different varieties to choose from. I can think of at least a dozen before I have to start scratching my brain, but the one most widely cultivated is the Edible Winter Squash or the Acorn Squash. I must admit, the topic fascinates me as not many types of fruit or vegetable come with such a variety of colours, shapes and textures. For instance, have you heard of a ‘flat white boer’, or a ‘Musquee de Provence’? The flat white Boer is hard to think about as a squash, as it looks like it says on the tin – flat and white, most peculiar!

Comparing Pumpkins with Squash

The main comparison here will still be the outer covering, shape and size. In terms of usage, do remember that they are both classified as fruits, as opposed to vegetables. Pumpkin is recommended as both a savoury and sweet item, whereas squash tends to stick to being vegetable orientated.

Pumpkin Seeds are used as a healthy addition as a topping to salads or other dishes, but you rarely see Squash Seeds being used in this way. They are equally as healthy but in different ways – Pumpkin seeds are a very rich source of fatty acids, whilst squash seeds are high in protein and are fibre-rich, just remember that they are contributory to your carb intake though.

With regard to the flesh of each of these, once again the texture of the internal flesh is pretty much the same, which is why they both roast or bake pretty well. Both of them can be used as a substitute for noodles or as a soup thickener.

Whichever way you look at it, these vegetables/fruits are an excellent asset to any cooks cupboard, both in summer and winter. They are not only great to eat, but can be used as decorous items, containers and in some countries of the world, they are used as water-carriers, pipes, birdhouses, ladles and snuff boxes, to name but a few. Incredible and ingenious at the same time!

Chefs in both east and west use these nourishing foods in many ways, but in the US and Canada the ‘pumpkin pie’ rules, and would never be missing from a dessert display on high days and holidays, such is its availability. However we cannot say the same about squash varieties, they are not really destined to excite your pallet if used as a fruit pie! With such enormous crops of pumpkins in the US, many varieties are canned and sold as such, so we could say it is somewhat of a convenience food, with no need to cut up, deseed and prepared – just open the can! I don’t believe I have ever seen ‘canned squash’??

Just saving my last comment on pumpkins. Whilst touring Australia, I came across ‘Jarrahdale’ pumpkins which are considered as a native heirloom. They are a kind of blueish-grey with the brightest orange flesh which is quite startling when you cut into it. Of course, it is named after the town that it comes from (Jarrah). As the flesh is more used for savoury dishes, I was informed that it is never used in pies, only soups, stews etc. I then became more and more confused about differences, when I was informed that it is actually a squash, but they call it a pumpkin. Oh dear, back to the drawing board!!

Suggested Squash Soups

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Bev Perkins

An experienced chef, recipe developer, food writer and qualified nutritionist, Bev’s career has encompassed over 40 years. Educated in London and Paris, and with an unquenchable thirst for travelling, Bev’s passion for cooking evolved with a deep desire to learn about every cuisine in the globe, so whilst resident in Paris she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu (formerly L’Ecole Culinaire de Paris) and spent two years learning her art. She furthered her experience working in restaurants in all corners of the world from bistros to Michelin-Starred establishments and finally with her own catering company providing food to both corporate and individual clients. An experienced writer and editor, Bev is never happier than with a pen in one hand and cookery book in the other!

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