By Candy Mullen

Special to the Daily Herald

Did you know that squash is one of the native fruits of the Americas? Yes, that's right, it is actually a fruit, not a vegetable. By botanical definition, fruits have their seeds on the inside. Squash and gourds are fruit, as are tomatoes.

The word "squash" is derived from "askutasquash" from the language of Native Americans (Nahahiganseck Sovereign Nation) that lived in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It literally means "a green thing eaten raw."

Right now is the true season to select those wonderful winter squashes for great nutrition, flavor and color. There are also summer squash varieties, but the season now is for winter.

Squash is very versatile, nutritious, and can be eaten raw or cooked, served alone or as a side dish, like pumpkin pie. Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita, also called marrows.

Winter squash matures on the vine and develops an inedible, thick, hard rind, making them quite heavy for their size, and a deep colored, tough skin. Do not choose a squash that has sunken or moldy spots and avoid those that have cuts or bruises. Also avoid those that have a tender rind, which indicates immaturity and an undeveloped flavor. Avoid storing squash near apples, avocados or passion fruit as these are natural ripening agents and will not be good for the squash.

A fall garden in Central Texas is ideal for growing winter squash, gourds and pumpkins so plan on doing so next season.

Some delicious and unusual varieties could include acorn (acorn shaped, sweet), ambercup (orange skin, resembles a pumpkin), autumn cup (dark green, rich flavor), butternut (vase or bell shape, sweet), buttercup (turban shape, dark and light green), carnival (cream or pale green color), delicata (heirloom variety, tastier like corn and sweet potatoes), fairytale pumpkin (flattened like cheese, baking), gold nugget (oriental pumpkin, small, orange), hubbard (warted skin, large, yellow flesh), kabocha (green, bluish-gray skin), spaghetti (small, golden-yellow, large is best, use flesh as noodles), and sweet dumpling squashes (cream colored, miniature pumpkin, stuff it!).

Squash is one of the "three sisters" taught by Native Americans to be planted together: maize (corn), beans and squash. The stalk allowed the beans to climb and the shade for the squash, and the squash vines prevented the weeds from growing.

Have any questions about gardening in Central Texas? E-mail

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