In southern and central parts of the US and Mexico, Cucurbita fraterna (a wild variation of Cucurbita pepo var. pepo) may have been domesticated into the gem squash.
When completely mature, the tennis-ball-sized dark green spherical fruit. When the fruit is still young, and has a subtler taste and texture.
Cucurbita pepo, the genus toward which gem squashes and most pumpkins belong, is a subgenus of Cucurbita mixta, the genus to which cushaw squash and butternut squash belong. The genus to which cushaw squash and butternut squash are also genetically identical.
As a general rule, squashes are classified as summertime or winter squash based on when they are harvested and how ripe they are when they are harvested. Because winter squashes are usually harvested near the end of summer, their skins become thick and robust and may be stored for later use, making them ideal for long-term storage. Unlike winter squashes, summer squashes are harvested while they are still immature and pliable. Zucchini, for example, does not need any cooking, although it does not keep as long as winter squashes. The delicious pattypan squash belongs to this family, too.
Gem squash is a summer squash, although the skin thickness of the gem squashes varies widely depending on how earlier or later than usual they were harvested. They tend to be thick-skinned and, after cooking, create their own small biodegradable bowls in South Africa (typically sold on the road in 5- or 10-kilogram sacks).
The summer squashes marketed in the UK, on the other hand, live up to their name as “summer squash,” and the cooked skin is frequently tender enough to eat. As well as larger squashes, we have baby gem squashes in South Africa, which are cooked in only a few seconds and are the length of ping pong balls. Because there is no mess to clean up, you can devour the entire dish without any trouble or fuss.
Growing the Gem Squash at Home
As the gem squash requires a lot of room to develop, it’s important to choose the right place. If you let them, they’ll take over any vegetable garden with their long vines. Vine trellises with A-frames are used by certain producers to protect these vines from interfering with other plants and fruit from dropping to the floor (where they might rot).
The ideal temperature for optimal development is between 18C and 27C. The northern hemisphere’s frost-free growth season lasts generally from April to November.
If you live in a cooler climate, choose the sunniest portion of your garden and use rich, well-drained soil to plant your gem squash. Sow seeds in lines, 2cm thick and 1m apart, before adding compost to the soil. The seeds will perish if the soil is too wet, so keep it damp but not saturated. The big foliage of the gem squash plants acts as a barrier to water loss; therefore, mulching is unnecessary.
“Dig the planting hole way too wide, throw a handful or two of 3-4-day old grass cuttings in the hole, add little compost and slow-release fertilizer. Then place your seedlings on top,” suggests UK reader Stephen Brosin in his gardening advice. Your Gem Squashes will thrive in your compost heap, so go gardening!
Cucumbers’ growth needs are comparable to those of gem squashes, which like potassium-rich organic liquid feeds.
When to Harvest the Gem Squash?
Early autumn is the best time for harvesting. Skin that is too hard to penetrate with your fingernails indicates that the squashes are mature and ready to be harvested if you live in a warm environment. But in the cold Northern Hemisphere (see below for the powdery mildew issue), you are unlikely to reach this stage, thus regardless of how soft the skin is, you should pick them up sooner rather than later as they approach tennis ball size (or even earlier).
If you live in a chilly area, Powdery Mildew, a fungus that attacks later in the growing season, will be an issue when you cultivate gem squash. Seasonal shortfalls mean that plants are more susceptible to diseases like powdery mildew, which may be fatal if left untreated. Powdery mildew prevention suggestions from experiences gardeners include the following:
- Plants should be grown in full sunlight.
- As a general rule, avoid drenching your plants’ leaves while watering. Instead, irrigate the soil directly.
- Make a makeshift greenhouse out of wooden battens and transparent polythene sheeting to protect the plants from rain and chilly winds.
- The fungicide myclobutanil is often used by farmers and gardeners in the United States. As an American gardener, I decided I should give it a go because it’s permitted for use on ornamental plant and fruit trees in the UK.
Spraying afflicted leaves with a solution of 1-part skim or low-fat dairy milk to 9 parts water has been effective for some gardeners (a 10 percent solution of milk, in other words). Some people swear by spraying the leaves with a solution of 1 tsp. (about 5 ml) of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 1 quart (just under a liter). The powdery mildew won’t be completely wiped off by these, but at minimum the plant will be able to develop for harvest.
- Remove the diseased leaves to allow more air and light to reach the plant as a whole.
How to Pick Gem Squashes
Gem squash seeds may be harvested from the fruits before cooking in order to increase your yield next year. There is a piece of advice from a reader, Keith Meintjies. It’s best to wait to harvest the squash until the plants die back, or to purchase mature squash that aren’t completely green but have a tinge of yellow or orange on their skin. Before cooking, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Remove the seeds from the squash threads by rinsing them in water. After a week or two of drying the seeds on a piece of paper towel, keep them in a Ziploc bag or an old plastic 35mm film cannister.
Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, folic acid, and niacin are all present in the gem squash, which is rich in fiber and low in calories. It shares many of the same nutrients as spaghetti squash.
Where Can I Find Gem Squash Seeds
It’s possible to purchase the gem squash, seedlings or seeds based on where you reside.
How to Prepare the Gem Squash
How to prepare the Gem squash to get the most out of it?
It is possible to skin and split the gem squash, then remove all of the seeds and toast them in olive oil.
However, if I can escape peeling a squash, then I’m all for it!
My father still boils (or steams or puts in the microwave oven) the squash until the interior is soft enough to easily scoop out the seeds, which he does around the flesh of the squash. Then, in each cavity, place a knob of butter, crush the flesh, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
As an alternative to sweet vegetables, use kosher salt, pepper and rosemary in place of the sugar. Adding a balsamic vinegar dressing to mashed potatoes also works beautifully.
Fill each hole with a tablespoon of pesto-mixed veggies, then steam the squashes as described above (also perfect as a vegan meal).
It’s a favorite of my husband’s to fill gem squash with minced beef and tomato ragu.
A spicy creamy sweetcorn combination and cheese topped gem squash is my favorite way to enjoy them!
Roasted Gem Squash in South African Style
Here is how you can prepare the Gem Squash in this method.
- Wash and cut the pumpkin in half.
- Scoop off the seed and pulp from the middle of the fruit.
- The oven should be preheated at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Rub the olive oil into the squash with your hands, coat the squash in a light layer of oil.
- Salt & pepper to taste. Bake for 15 mins at 200 degrees Celsius on a roasting pan.
- Sliced spring onions may be sautéed in oil in a skillet.
- For a few seconds, add garlic and continue to sauté.
- Add kernels of corn and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Add the peri peri sauce/tomato sauce/ketchup and the black pepper powder.
- If you’re not using cream, go to step 9 and thoroughly combine the ingredients.
- This mixture may be spooned into cooked gem squash halves.
- Divide the contents and parmesan between the two sides and top it with cheese. Bake for another 6-7 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.
- Serve with a side of salad while still hot.
Traditional Method to Cook the Gem Squash
Set the oven temperature to 200°C. Cut your gem in half with a hefty knife once it has been cleaned. Using a spoon, carefully remove the seeds and pulp. Place the halves on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Use cheese or veggie filling to fill the two halves. If you don’t have the two, you may skip this step. Bake them for 15 to 20 minutes at 200 °C. Remove them off the baking sheet using a spatula or tongs. Make a serving dish out of them by laying them out. Fork or spoonfuls of these treats are best enjoyed after they’ve cooled a little. The skin should be discarded.
How to Microwave the Gem Squash?
The procedure is rather straightforward.
Peel off the gem’s skin and chop it into little pieces before using it. Second, put them in a microwave-safe dish. The third step is to add two teaspoons of water and then to shut the microwave. Lastly, turn on the heat and cook for around 3 to 5 minutes. When in doubt, use a fork to see whether it’s done. If not, give it a few more seconds or minutes to finish cooking.
Steaming a gem squash is an option. The vegetable may be steamed in a saucepan or a Dutch oven, for example. In order to steam a gem squash, you must first peel and chop it into little cubes. Colander or steamer basket should then be placed in a kettle filled with boiling water and the cubes seasoned with salt. The best results are always obtained when the pot is covered with a lid.
For the most part, this dish is a favorite among many people due to its deliciousness. It has a delicate taste and texture, to be precise. They also have an earthy flavor, particularly if they aren’t spiced up.