Crookneck Squash

Cucurbita pepo var. torticollia

Herbs gallery - Crookneck Squash

The crookneck squashes have been mentioned in documents dating from the colonial period of the United States of America, so they are thought to be some of the oldest summer squash cultivars. A Quaker from Philadelphia, Timothy Matlock, gave the seeds of a possible Yellow Crookneck squash to Thomas Jefferson in 1807. Jefferson mentioned the plant in his Garden Book and noted that the origin of the seeds was the Copper family in New Jersey, who has preserved it as an heirloom for almost 100 years.

Crookneck squashes only reached Europe at the beginning of the 19th Century, even if many other squash varieties were brought home earlier by explorers returning from the Americas. However, this cultivar produces a large number of fruits that are very easy to harvest due to the open bushy structure of the plant. It grows very easily and likes fertile soils with good drainage, in warm climates and locations in full sun.

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Crookneck squashes have a soft yellow skin with a smooth surface and can grow to a medium size. The flesh is also yellow and has a dense structure, with edible seeds inside. It has a typical shape with a thin neck and a wide base that explains the name of this squash variety. It should be harvested at a maximum length of five to six inches, when the flesh is soft and has the best taste. The flavour is similar to the one of the zucchini, with a buttery mild taste and hints of nuts or black peppers. At full maturity, the skin becomes hard and turns orange in color, while the surface is no longer smooth, being covered in lines, warts or bumps.

Because it matures fast and is very easy to cultivate, the crookneck squash is very popular. A single plant can produce a large number of yellow fruits with a length of up to 6 inches. It is a very prolific plant and the squashes can be harvested during the entire summer. Picking them actually stimulates the plant to produce more squashes, which should be harvested while the skin is still soft. They can be cooked easily by frying in slices or steaming with nutmeg.

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At maturity, this yellow squash has a yellow skin covered by warts and an irregular shape. The flesh is pale yellow, with small seeds located in the hollow center. It has a delicate nutty flavour and every part of the squash is edible, including the skin and seeds. Even if it is a summer species, the taste of the winter squash is more similar to the one of winter varieties. This makes it perfect for grated or grilled recipes. It is edible in raw form and can be included in salads after minor grating, improving their overall texture.

The crookneck squash is considered to be a very nutritious vegetable, due to the very rich content of vitamin C and fiber. It can be consumed in many ways, on its own, as a side dish or as a filler ingredient in many dishes.

The species is easily cultivated in gardens. It needs a sunny position and fertile soil with good drainage, so prepare it with compost and mulch in order to provide the ideal growth conditions. It needs a lot of moisture, as long as the soil drains well, and it should be planted after the last period of frost. The flowers are delicious as well but should only be harvested with care; otherwise the number of squashes decreases too much. Squashes should be harvested at a length of around 15 cm.

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Health benefits

This yellow squash is a great choice for a balanced diet, since it is a great source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while having a low content of calories and fats.

Compared to the related butternut squash, the crookneck squash is not as rich in vitamin C, but a serving of 100 g still provides 150 IU, which is a good amount. This vitamin is critical for a healthy vision but also plays a role in cell development. Crookneck squashes also provide carotenes and other flavonoid polyphenolic pigment antioxidants. These antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the body, protecting cells and tissues from their destructive effects.

In fresh form, the crookneck squash has a richer content of vitamin C than the zucchini and a portion of 100 grams provides 19.3 mg, or one third of the daily recommended amount. This vitamin is known as a potent antioxidant but also improves the absorption of iron and the synthesis of collagen.

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A serving of raw squash supplies 5% of the folate RDA, or 19 µg. This nutrient is critical for women during pregnancy, in order to prevent serious neural tube defects in infants. Folate is very important for the body overall, since it is needed for the production of DNA and cellular division.

Summer squashes are a good source of magnesium, an essential mineral that decreases the risk of heart conditions and strokes. It works together with vitamin C to prevent the hardening of arteries by keeping their walls flexible, which also reduces blood pressure. Many diseases associated with aging, such as vision loss due to macular degeneration, can be prevented by the combined action of antioxidant compounds.

The summer crookneck squash is also a strong anti-inflammatory vegetable, due to the presence of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and other carotenoids that can completely neutralize the action of free radicals. Squashes also reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal system by supplying a massive dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

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Dietary fibers can significantly improve all aspects of digestive health. They bulk up the stool and promote regular bowel movements, which balances the level of sugar in the blood and improves appetite. Including squashes in your diet will provide a constant supply of fibers, which regulates digestion and prevents issues like diabetes or constipation.

Cholesterol is needed by the liver for the production of bile acids. These are used to digest fats and are stored inside the gall bladder. Quality dietary fibers, such as those found in squashes, can eliminate bile acids and cholesterol by binding to them inside the intestine. As a result, they play a very important role in regulating cholesterol levels. The overall level of LDL decreases, since the liver is using excess cholesterol to synthetize bile acids. This prevents serious conditions like atherosclerosis. In addition, the risk of other heart diseases caused by cholesterol is reduced by the vitamins A and C in squashes, which shield arteries from damage.

Yellow crookneck squashes are also a rich source of vitamin B6. This bioactive compound allows the body to use more energy by improving the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and glycogen.

Several studies have revealed that vitamin B6 can also reduce the risk of heart attacks and other lethal cardiovascular incidents, in combination with folic acid. This is achieved by controlling the blood level of homocysteine. Squashes are also rich in magnesium, which is an additional nutrient with heart-protective effects.

Cancer starts when free radicals mutate healthy normal cells. This process can be prevented by the action of antioxidants such as folic acids and the vitamins A and C. The dietary fibers found in squashes can also regulate bowel movements and eliminate toxins from the digestive tract, reducing the risk of colon cancer, according to the results of several studies.

Other researchers have established that potassium can eliminate sodium chloride from the blood stream, which allows the blood to circulate freely and relieves high pressure. This makes the crookneck squash and excellent dietary choice for people with high blood pressure, since a serving provides 32mg of potassium as well as a good dose of magnesium.

Due to the high content of vitamins A and C, a diet that includes this vegetable can be very effective against asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and many other conditions of an inflammatory nature.

Selection and storage

When choosing yellow squashes, select the vegetables with firm skin and a glossy appearance. The best ones seem to be heavier than they look. The surface of the skin is not important; it can be smooth or covered in warts. Don't buy very large squashes, since it's very likely they have a bland taste and a woody texture. The best ones have a medium size, since smaller ones might also taste poorly. You can store them in the fridge for up to four days.

Before placing it in the fridge, put the fresh squash inside a plastic bag. This helps preserve the crookneck squash for longer and it is common practice for related cultivars, such as the zucchini.

Preparation and serving methods

The skin can be covered in sand or dirt, so wash the squash with cold water before preparation. The part with the stem should be removed, but otherwise the skin is edible and you don’t have to peel it. Squashes can be cut into cubes, wedges or slices in order to be used as ingredients. They can be included in numerous grilled, baked or stuffed recipes.

The flowers of the crookneck squash are also edible and are actually considered a delicacy. They are included in salads or used as a very tasty side dish. To avoid reducing the number of fruits, try to harvest only the male flowers. Another delicacy is the female flower with a very small squash fruit inside, which has a very refreshing flavor.

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