U-Pick Organic Blueberry Picking is OPEN!

Plant Education – Banana Squash

February 16, 2024

While it is winter, I am sure you are thoroughly over winter squash. However, even so, let’s talk about one of my favorites, the banana squash. During a recent visit to California to see my parents, I stumbled upon a farm stand. While others were snagging bundles of vivid red Oxnard Strawberries, I opted for a banana squash, a treat I wanted my mom to experience. Weighing on the smaller side at 3 lbs,  I threw it in my backpack looking absurd.  Banana squash are rather long.

The real question, however, arose once I handed it off: what do we do with it? My mom is into creating and trying new soup recipes with her Vitamix.  I suggested she give this sweet sugary squash a whirl. No doubt about it – my parents loved it. Sometimes strange does pay off.

Banana squash plants belong to the Cucurbita family (C. maxima) and come in a multitude of varieties and cultivars: Candy Roaster (which can weigh up to a whopping 60 lbs), North Georgia Candy Roaster (a more manageable 10 lbs), Pink Banana Jumbo, and hybrid varieties like Sibley, just to name a few. Sizes also vary among cultivars, but on average, a squash measures about 10 pounds, spans 2-3 feet in length, and boasts an 8-inch circumference. My tiny hands have trouble fitting all the way around an “average” size. I can’t even imagine a 60-pounder. They have an elongated shape, curving slightly the older it gets, and smooth outer skin, that is, salmon pink, bluish-gray, solid yellow, or even variegated in hue depending upon the cultivar. The interior of the squash is firm, meaty and orange in color.

Banana squash was traced back to ancient sites in Peru and  made their way to North America sometime after 1492.  I cannot find any factual accounting for its passage. Most likely it was passed through trade. Eventually, it is said to have been introduced in 1893 by R.H. Shumway in the Shumay seed catalog with other seed companies following shortly after.

Personally, I have only tried the North Georgia Candy Roaster banana squash. Not surprisingly, even though it supposedly came from the pink banana, there is not a mention of it in the Shumay seed catalog in its history. This variety was  cultivated and bred by the Cherokee Nation in the 19th century. The Cherokee Nation valued the variety for its long shelf life and planted the squash throughout present-day Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, and Eastern Tennessee. In 1925, the North Georgia headlined in an article in the Charlotte Observer, allowing it to reach farms and households outside of the Cherokee Nation.

Banana squash gradually fell out of favor for other winter squash like butternut, acorn, etc. Today, they are finally enjoying a resurgence they so deserve. If you are going to try some, Banana squash can be grown as a summer squash. The catch is you have to harvest it at the right time. Otherwise, be patient for fall and sautee, steam or roast it to use however you want – casseroles, soups, alone or even in pies. You won’t regret the extra wait by a long shot.