The number of different types of squash is enough to confuse any cook or gardener. Your local grocery store probably carries a variety of the most common commercially grown squashes. Quite a few varieties are only going to be available from the farmers market and only during the growing season. Squash is divided into categories of summer and winter. Their thin, edible skin and the fact that they go bad within a week of picking distinguish summer squash, like zucchini. Summer squash can be eaten raw. Winter squash, like acorn, is characterized by thick skin, that is inedible and it will keep for weeks to months in cool temperatures. You must cook winter squash to eat it.
Smaller squash varieties are easy to find at the grocery store. The long green squash that is readily available all year round is zucchini. Zucchini is most often paired with yellow crookneck squash in the produce section. Both can be eaten raw and do not need to be peeled. This type of squash is delicious when battered or fried, shredded in bread or casserole or sauteed with pasta. Cucumber is another summer squash variety that is in a class all its own. It is not typically cooked, but eaten raw with or without the skin.
Smaller winter squash varieties commonly found in the grocery store are butternut, acorn and spaghetti. Most of these will vary in size from the size of a small cantaloupe to the size of a small watermelon. Butternut squash has a beige skin and is long and pear shaped. The meat is bright orange and is mostly used mixed in recipes like breads and casseroles. Substitute butternut squash for pumpkin in any recipe. Acorn squash is small and round and shaped much like an acorn. The skin is green with orange or yellow patches. The meat is yellow. Serve it cut in half, baked in its skin, with butter and salt or sugar. Spaghetti squash is oval shaped and bright yellow. It is served by baking it and then shredding the meat with a fork. The meat of this squash naturally takes a spaghetti noodle shape when cooked.
Heirloom squash is uncommon variety and is found at farmers markets. This includes ambercut, autumn cup, banana, carnival, delicta, fairytale pumpkin, gold nugget, hubbard, sweet dumpling and turban squash. Some well-stocked grocery stores may carry carnival, hubbard or gold nugget. These are all winter squashes that are baked before eating. The hubbard is the largest squash available. It is characterized by an extremely thick blue gray skin and can be over a foot in length. Hubbard squash lasts the longest of all the squash varieties due to its thick skin.
Ornamental squash is grown mostly for decoration instead of consumption. These squash are sought after as decoration because of their unusual shapes and coloring. Squash is from the gourd family, so often the ornamental varieties are called gourds. Common ornamental squash includes gooseneck, miniature pumpkins that are white or orange or boo-boo pumpkins, carnival, calabash or turban. Ornamental squash are always winter squash as they can sit out as decoration for a long time and some varieties are edible.