According to the National Gardening Association, 32 percent of gardeners grow summer squash in their gardens. According to that same survey, 43 million households in the U.S. have food gardens. With a little math, we can determine that at least 14 million Americans grow and then feed squash to their families and friends. That is a lot of squash!
If certain vegetables are representatives of the different seasons, then squash is definitely a reminder of summer. Since it is so easy to grow, and so prolific, people in Texas cannot imagine a summer that is not full of fresh squash. A few years ago, as much as I love growing and eating squash, I was growing tired of planting the same old zucchini and yellow squash. It dawned on me that it was time to try something new! That is when Tatume Squash entered my garden.
Why I love the Tatsume Squash
Tatume is a dual-purpose squash, you can eat Tatume when it is young (in as little as 45 days) as you would any summer squash, such as zucchini. The young fruits have soft skin, delicate flesh and undeveloped seeds. Pan fry them with onions or steam and serve with butter, or shred them into batters for breads and muffins. The vigorous vines bloom with hundreds of flowers for stuffing or frying. But, Tatume squash left on the vine to mature will grow into golden-yellow six- to eight-inch-long winter squash with a hard skin that will store well into winter. These mature Tatume squash are perfect for baking or mashed into pies. As if that isn’t enough, the squash seeds can be roasted and eaten as a nutritious snack or even pressed for vegetable oil. The tender young shoots, small leaves, and tendrils make exotic steamed greens.
Seeds for this amazing dual-purpose squash are available online from Phytonutrient Farms (www.phytonutrientfarms.com) among others. Note that you will often find Tatume squash listed as round zucchini or Mexican zucchini.
Perhaps because it has been grown for hundreds or even thousands of years, this hardy squash is nearly immune to many diseases as well as the squash borer insect (Melitta curcurbitae). Plant Tatume squash, as with other squash, after all danger of frost has passed and the ground is warm. Choose a spot with full sun. Mix compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. The ideal pH range for squash is between 5.5 and 6.8, although they will do well over a slightly wider range, but you may notice lower yields.
Plant the seeds about an inch deep in hills of five or six seeds, then thin to the best two or three vines as these are extremely vigorous vines, and can grow up to 20 feet long, so plan well. Space the hills at least four feet apart in rows five or six feet apart. You may want to train them up a sturdy fence or trellis. Once established, this squash has giant leaves and strong vines that will soon crowd out all weeds. Tatume grow quickly, especially in warm weather, so check them daily. If you harvest the squash frequently it encourages the vines to keep setting fruits.
Some vegetables offer different nutrients than others. Some, however, have truly impressive amounts, which is the case with squash: 457% of the daily value per serving in vitamin A - more than pumpkin and possibly more than any other vegetable. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, essential for good skin, vision, and mucous membranes. What's more, polyphenolic carotenoid/flavonoids such as betacarotenes, cryptoxanthin-ß, and lutein convert to vitamin A in the body for a "one-two punch" of protection. Research reveals that vitamin A may protect against the risk of lung and mouth cancers.
You get a 42% daily value in vitamin C in every cup of squash, providing infection protection, among other things. The potassium and manganese content in squash is good, too, with 17% and 18% daily values respectively, along with healthy amounts of vitamins E, B, B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, niacin, folate, calcium and magnesium, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
Although squash is considered by some to be a starch, not all starches are created equal. Fewer than 15% of the calories in winter squash come from fat, compared with almost 90% of the calories in walnuts, for instance. With winter squash, we have a fantastic anti-inflammatory food opportunity in which we can get a valuable amount of our anti-inflammatory omega-3s. This veggie is also cholesterol-free.
Squash, which has a high level of carotenes per serving, has built-in anti-cancer benefits. While studies show carotenoid concentrations in blood are biomarkers of fruit and vegetable intake offering cancer protection, one study in particular explored a possible association between carotene presence and breast cancer. Researchers concluded that among six carotenes tested, only β-carotene intake was significantly associated with reduced breast cancer risk.
Squash seeds provide lots of good-for-your-heart dietary fiber and unsaturated fatty acids, along with protein, minerals, and vitamins. Squash seeds also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter that concentrates (no pun intended) on motor decision speed. The tryptophan in squash seeds also may be crucial in regulating the endocrine pancreas, which in turn regulates the blood glucose in the body.
To bake your own squash seeds, separate them from the squash, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and toast them lightly at 160-170°F for 15 to 20 minutes. The low temperature decreases damage to healthy oils like linoleic acid (polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid - the same non-hydrogenated substance found in olive oil.
- Immune System Health: Squash is an important source of many nutrients, including vitamin C, magnesium, and other antioxidant compounds. These vitamins and minerals are important antioxidant components in the body, which help to neutralize free radicals throughout the body. Free radicals are the natural, dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism, and they have been connected with a wide swath of illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and premature aging. Furthermore, squash contains very high levels of vitamin A, including carotenoid phytonutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. All of this together helps the body boost its immune response and defend against foreign substances, as well as the free radicals produced by our own body, that may do us harm over the long term.
- Managing Diabetes: Proper, regulated metabolism of sugar in the body is the best way to manage the symptoms of diabetes, a disease which afflicts millions of people all around the world. Squash is a great source of B-complex vitamins, all of which are essential in that metabolic activity. Furthermore, certain types of squash contain good amounts of dietary fiber, including the polysaccharide known as pectin. Pectin is an essential element in blood sugar regulation throughout the body, making sure that the insulin and glucose activities within the body remain constant and smooth. This ensures proper function of different organ systems, and a reduction in the plunges and peaks that can make diabetic life so difficult.
- Anti-Inflammatory Capacity: Although talking about inflammation usually includes a discussion of arthritis or gout, inflammation can occur throughout the body, and is often a symptom of other conditions, like a fever that is a signal of an infection attacking the body. The anti-inflammatory activity of squash is due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, as well as somewhat unusual anti-inflammatory polysaccharides called homogalacturonan. Although anti-inflammatory affects can certainly extend to arthritis and gout, studies on squash have specifically linked its impact to reducing gastric and duodenal ulcer reduction, as well as to general anti-inflammation of the cardiovascular system. Inflammation in the body is also closely linked to type-2 diabetes, which is yet another way in which squash can help those suffering from that condition.
- Antiseptic, Antimicrobial, Antifungal Activity: The natural immune-boosting ability of squash is great for general illnesses, but specific toxins and foreign bodies can also cause serious health issues. However, as we mentioned in the introduction, the seeds of squash can also be eaten or chewed to get a number of health benefits. These seeds have been directly connected to antiparasitic, antimicrobial, and antifungal activity within the body, protecting us from a wide variety of terrible diseases, including tapeworms and other intestinal parasites.
- Lung Health: The vitamin in highest quantities within squash is vitamin A, and studies have linked vitamin A to a reduction in emphysema, particularly for those people who are consistently exposed to carcinogens like cigarette smoke. There is also an important carotenoid called beta-cryptoxanthin that has been linked to a reduction in the occurrence of lung cancer. Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of this terrible disease, so an increase in foods that contain vitamin A can be a very important protective element.
- Neural Tube Defects: Squash has significant levels of folate, which has long been known as an essential vitamin for pregnant women. Folic acid, or folate, is integral in developing the neural aspects of infantile health. Neural tube defects have been directly linked to a deficiency in folic acid, so adding squash to your diet is always a good idea.
- Cardiovascular Health: The magnesium and potassium present in squash combine to form a very effective defensive line against cardiovascular issues. Potassium is a vasodilator, which means that it relaxes the tension of blood vessels and arteries, thereby increasing blood flow and reducing the stress on the heart. This also increases oxygenation of the body’s various organ systems and improves function. The fiber, including pectin, found in squash is very good at scraping excess cholesterol from the walls of arteries, thereby reducing the chances of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Finally, the high levels of folate in squash are able to neutralize harmful levels of homocysteine that builds up in the body. Homocysteine has been linked to increased chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.
- Asthmatic Conditions: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of squash have been linked to a reduction in asthmatic conditions, primarily because the irritation that causes asthma can be eliminated by eating a diet high in squash.
- Blood Circulation: Many varieties of squash have high levels of iron and copper, both of which are essential components of red blood cells. What this means is that with enough squash in your diet, you can reduce your chances of developing anemia (iron deficiency) and you can generally increase circulation within your bloodstream, which can increase oxygenation, brain function, and overall energy levels.
- Eye Health: It may be hard to believe, but a single serving of squash can contain more than 400% of your daily requirement for vitamin A, due to the massive amount of beta-carotene that is found in squash. Beta-carotene can actually be split by an enzyme to form vitamin-A, but the body will only convert as much as is necessary. In other words, eating squash will give your body all the vitamin A it needs, with plenty of beta-carotene to spare. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant compound that is essential for good eye health. High levels of beta-carotene have been connected with reduced chances of macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and other vision issues.
- Bone Health: The high levels of essential vitamins found within squash make it a very important part of developing bone matter and bone mineral density. Squash is a valuable source of zinc, calcium, manganese, and other very important trace elements. This can help reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis as you age, and ensure strength and durability for your bones.
- Words of Caution: There are so many wonderful benefits of squash, but it is important to recognize some of the potential problems. As a strong agent to reduce blood pressure, someone with hypotension should avoid vegetables like squash, since it can lower your blood pressure to a dangerous level. Other than that, enjoy the many health benefits of squash in all your seasonal meals!
I just love squash grilled! See the photos below - fresh harvested and then grilled to perfection! But it is also really good is you bake squash with butter, salt, and pepper to get the true essence of this lovely garden offering. It also makes one of the most delicious soups; try it baked and processed with a softened Granny Smith apple, onion, and a large carrot - yum!