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Hard Cookneck Squash
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Hard Crookneck squashes are generally larger in size, averaging 15 to 30 centimeters in length, and have a cylindrical shape with a slightly curved to straight neck. The skin ranges in color from dark yellow to orange and is thick, firm, smooth to bumpy. Underneath the hard surface, the flesh is dry, somewhat woody, and pale yellow to orange, encasing large, cream-colored seeds. Hard Crookneck squashes must be cooked to develop a softer, palatable texture and have a subtly sweet, nutty flavor.
Hard Crookneck squashes are available in the summer through fall.
Hard Crookneck squashes, botanically classified as Cucurbita pepo, are fully mature fruits that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. The golden-orange squashes are developed from yellow squashes that have been left on the vine to fully mature, harden, and darken in color. Once the squashes ripen, they develop a drier texture, and the skin frequently grows many warts and bumps. Hard Crookneck squashes are not commercially cultivated and are rare to find in farmer’s markets. The squashes are generally sold as ornamentals, but despite their toothsome consistency, Hard Crookneck squashes are favored by a small group of home chefs for cooked applications such as soups and curries. Hard crookneck squashes are also traditionally cultivated by home gardeners and farmers for seed saving and future propagation.
Hard Crookneck squashes are an excellent source of fiber, which can help regulate digestion, and are a good source of phosphorus, folate, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. The squashes also contain vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that can protect the body against external aggressors by boosting the immune system and can help increase collagen production within the skin.
Hard Crookneck squashes are best suited for cooked applications such as simmering, roasting, frying, or baking as the flesh is considered dry and unpalatable when raw. It is recommended to remove the tough skin and scoop out the seeds before cooking. Hard Crookneck squashes can be sliced in half, filled with moist ingredients such as sausage, tomato sauce, or rice, and roasted for a tender consistency. The squashes can also be chopped and added to curries and soups, grated and fried into hash browns and fritters, or shredded and stirred into egg bakes. If the flesh is extra dry, it can be sliced into thin ribbons and marinated or steamed to help develop a softer texture. Hard Crookneck squashes pair well with meats such as beef, pork, and poultry, tofu, red onions, scallions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, potatoes, coconut milk, almond butter, soy sauce, and sriracha. The mature squashes will keep 2-5 days when stored in the refrigerator.
Yellow crookneck squashes are one of the few summer squash varieties that can be dried and hardened for ornamental uses. To create decorative squashes, the fruits are left on the vine to completely harden and over mature, extending past the window of edibility. The squashes are then removed from the vines, left to dry in the sun, and are cleaned periodically to protect against rotting and mold during the drying process. Ornamental squashes have become one of the most popular fall decorations in Europe and the United States. The unusually shaped squashes and gourds are often displayed in large, colorful piles, and they have become a symbol of the plentiful and abundant nature of the fall season.
Crookneck squashes are believed to be native to North America and have been cultivated since ancient times. Yellow crookneck squashes were frequently cultivated by northeastern Native American tribes, and eventually, the American colonists also took an interest in the fast-growing squashes. Over time, crookneck squashes were bred for favorable characteristics, developing the varieties we are familiar with in the modern market. Today Hard Crookneck squashes are primarily grown for seed saving or home culinary use. The mature squashes can sometimes be found through local farmer's markets in North America, Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East.