Wednesday, January 2, 2013

VEGETABLES OF BRAZIL - The Squash Family (Abóboras)

Although when speaking English we are accustomed to speaking in terms of butternut or acorn squashes, pumpkins, gourds, marrows, pattypans, zucchinis, etc., as separate foods, in fact all these vegetables are squashes - that is, botanically, they are all members of the genus Curcubita, the squashes. In Brazilian Portuguese, they are all inguistically linked together and called abóbora. To Brazilians a giant pumpkin and a small baby zucchini are both abóboras, although to help consumers along, some types are identified separately by modifiers or unique names. Zucchinis, for example, are generally referred to as abóbora italiana (Italian squash) or abobrinha (little squash). There are also unique regional names which are largely American in origin, such as jerimum, which is a Northeastern term for large pumpkin-type squashes.

The cultivation of squash goes back a very long way in human history, and archeological evidence seems to indicate that squashes were first cultivated in Mesoamerica between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Native Americans referred to squashes as one the "three sisters" (the three main native food crops), along with corn (maize) and beans. In native American cultures, all parts of the squash were eaten (as they still are today in the area). The flesh, the seeds and even the blossoms are all essential ingredients in traditional Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian and other New World cuisines.

Brazilians cook and eat squashes in many forms - in soups, in purees, which can be either savory or sweetened with sugar, salads, in breads and cakes, and in stews and hot-pots. Larger, sturdier squashes, are even used as containers for other foods. In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll detail some of the uniquely Brazilian treatments of this important family of vegetables.

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