• Culinary History
  • Cucurbits

The History and Uses of the Cushaw, a Survey Article

  • by the Old White Hippie
  • 7900 words
  • 12 recipes

Table of Contents


I grew up in a redneck suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. I openly admit I have a lot to unlearn, but I’m working on it. This article roves deep into other cultures than the one in which I was raised. I’ll be doing my best to approach them with respect, and give credit where credit is due.

My grandfather, a toll collector on a downtown bridge, maintained a truck garden out back that provided much of the produce his family consumed. My father, a hardware man in the early days of medical imaging, carried on the tradition, but this was white people gardening, carrots, beefsteak tomatoes, russet potatoes, green beans of a couple of bush varieties. I was grown and out on my own before I ever heard the word "cultivar".

Many years later, when we bought a farm in Willis, Virginia, I started expanding my horizons, looking at what might grow in the Blue Ridge microclimate. I did a few seed swaps, trading cultivars and experience with other small farms and organic growers. One such netted me a package with about two dozen sandwich size ziploc bags, labeled in black Sharpie, from a guy in western Kentucky who was seriously into cucurbits. The Amish pie pumpkins did well, flattened whitish fruit that stewed down nicely. The gourds went nuts and I ended up with a drying shed full of them. And then there were the cushaws.

I had no idea what a cushaw even was, had to look it up. They grew well, took to our soil like a duck to water, put out fruit close to the base where the big orange pumpkins threw vines out through the fence and got eaten by the free range chickens. (The Amish pie pumpkins were more sensible, hence their getting used in our kitchen and our having to buy a pumpkin to use as a jack’o’lantern.) The first cushaw to come in, well, here's a photo of it in my office chair for scale.

I wasn't real sure what to do with it, but the research I'd done said you could treat it like a pumpkin, kinda sorta. I found a soft pumpkin cookie recipe from the 1920s and made it with cushaw, and people started offering me money for them. I'd have made them a cash crop if we hadn't run low on money and I had to go back into IT to pay the mortgage, which led to me having to go off to Trenton and then the farm closing down from lack of hands to run it. Of course I saved seeds. I will find a way to try again. Container gardening is a thing. We’ve got a big patio out back. But I digress.

What is a cushaw, you might ask, if your history like mine did not include them? How is it that something this tasty and easy to grow isn't on the menu of more folks? The answer being it’s partly regional, partly economic, and partly just not being in people's ancestry. If your folks were Mexican, from Central America as far south as Nicaragua, Indigenous from the American Southwest (Hopi, Akimiel O’odham, or Tohono O’odham), or came from Louisiana, you're more likely to have heard of or even eaten a cushaw. They’ve been cultivated in Peru and Argentina, but that appears from my research to be a recent introduction, and not a well established crop. If you're like me, and grew up in predominantly white suburbia, odds are you've never been within sight of one before. Let's look at where this cucurbit came from, where it's gotten to, and how people have put it to use over the centuries.

Geography, Naming, Cultivars

We’re going to be mostly concerned with the green striped cushaw, Cucurbita argyrosperma Huber, as that’s the one whose seeds and flesh are used for human foodstuffs, and the one I have personal experience growing. At one point, it was known as C. mixta, but that’s been abandoned for the more descriptive taxonomy, referring to the silvery seeds that are a primary reason for cultivation.

C. argyrosperma started out in Mesoamerica, bred up from C. sororia, which still grows wild from Mexico to Nicaragua, and is used for animal feed. Archaeological evidence suggests that the cushaw was domesticated about 7000 years ago in what is now southern Mexico. Cultivated originally for its seeds, which are rich in oil (39%) and protein (44%) and form the basis of a number of sauces as well as being toasted and eaten whole, the Mesoamerican farmers bred the plants to reduce the cucurbitin content in the flesh (which makes it taste bitter), as well as the usual goals of increasing the size of the edible parts, reducing trichome formation (the non edible bits plants tend to throw off), and producing reliable yields year to year. C. argyosperma has come a long way from C. sororia, now growing sturdy plants a foot high and spreading up to fifteen feet, resistant to squash vine borers, and producing fruit weighing up to 20 pounds each, easily comparable to pie pumpkins.

Being a cucurbit, it’s related to a lot of other squash varieties. Besides its close cousins, callicarpa, kellyanna, palmieri, and stenosperma, cushaws are in the same taxonomy with C. pepo, C. moschata, C. ficifolia, and C. maxima.

  • C. pepo is a massive family, and includes the vegetable marrow, cocozzelle, and zucchini, the many varieties of pumpkin, and the scallop, acorn, crookneck, and straightneck squashes.
  • C. moschata includes the winter squash, musky squash, tamalayota, calabaza, ayote, auyama, zapallo, and joko.

Being reasonably widespread, the cushaw has a lot of names. In English-speaking regions, it’s known as Green Striped Cushaw, White Cushaw, Magdalena Striped, Papago, Silver Seed Gourd, Japanese Pie, Hopi, Taos, Parral Cushaw, Veracruz Pepita, and in Appalachia, as the Tennessee sweet potato. In Mexico, it’s called the calabaza, calabaza pinta, and calabaza pipiana. Through Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, it’s the pipián, which is also the name of a red or green salsa made from the seeds, and in Guatemala, it’s known as saquil and pipitoria.

As to where the name “cushaw” comes from, it appears to be a shortened version of the Algonquian word coscushaw, according to the Everwilde Farms website and a few other sources. According to a list of words used by the Croatoan compiled by Scott Dawson, coscushaw means “Greenbrier root (for bread)”, and it would make sense that a white man would mistake the word to refer to the fruit. Everybody knows the urban legend about the kangaroo, that the word actually meant “I don’t understand you”, although it’s sadly false. The name for the critter in the Guugu Yimidhirr aboriginal language is “gaNurru”, which gave us the hanklyn-janklyn borrowing “kangaroo”. It’s easy enough to see coscushaw becoming cushaw in that light. The oldest English-language reference to the plant by the name “cushaw” dates to 1698.

Growing Your Own

Cushaws are a summer squash, heat and drought tolerant, and resistant to the squash vine borer. These factors have made them a favorite of many Indigenous peoples of the American South and Southwest, Mexico, and Mesoamerica, as well as minorities of foreign origin in the same regions. From personal experience, I can say that they’re relatively easy to grow, don’t sprawl as much as pumpkins do, and thrive under conditions other cucurbit cultivars would find suboptimal. Let’s look at the actual requirements and some pro tips.

Cushaws prefer well drained soil, and don’t do as well in heavy clay. You’ll want to work in compost, maybe a little vermiculite, any broken pottery you have laying around for water retention, and generally have a healthy bed for them. If you’re doing serious gardening, then you’ve seen to your soil conditions already, and will find cushaws somewhat forgiving. You’ll want a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.5, with recommendations for using ground limestone and wood ash for raising pH and gypsum or sulfur to lower it.

Pro tip: You can get soil test kits from World of Science and other educational stores for a lot cheaper than the ones you buy through agricultural and scientific supply houses, and they’re just as good for the level of gardening a lot of people are doing, backyard and community level stuff.

Plant directly from seed right after your last frost date, or start from seed two weeks earlier and transplant out. You’ll want a soil temperature of at least 60 F. (15 C.) for direct sowing. Remember that while the plants will only get about a foot or so high (30 cm), they may spread up to fifteen feet (4.5 m). Allow room for the sprawl. I’ve seen instructions to hill up in the middle of the bed and put in four to six seeds, then thin out to the two strongest, but I hate thinning with a passion. Waste of viable plants. I got plenty of cushaws planting two seeds per hill. Transplanting is even better because you’ve already established a healthy plant before it goes out to the garden.

Pro tip: If you’re doing a square foot garden, one cushaw hill in the middle takes up the whole four foot by four foot bed. Sorry, no metric on this one, I’m citing Mel Bartholomew here from his book Square Foot Gardening. If you’re doing Three Sisters, you’ll want to put your hills eight to ten feet (2.5 to 3 m) apart, with your corn and legumes throughout the area as normal, so the vines will overlap and you’ll get the weeds shaded out properly by the cucurbit leaves.

Flowers appear in July or August, depending on your starting date and growing conditions. You’ll get both male and female blooms on the same plant, the female distinctive by the ovary bulge behind the blossom, as you’d expect from a squash. As with other cucurbits, you can snip off a few of the males to encourage resources to the female blooms. I’m told they’re quite tasty stuffed, breaded, fried, and otherwise prepared like any other squash blossom. Haven’t tried them, so couldn’t venture an opinion.

As with any squash, keep an eye out for vine borers and powdery mildew. If you get borers, do the usual surgery and bury the wounded bit. Cushaws are resistant to these pests, though, and will also survive their depredations much more readily than your yellow crookneck or zucchini will. Powdery mildew is the bane of my existence. Neem oil has been my greatest ally, as it’s a mild fungicide in addition to stopping chewing and sucking insects such as aphids.

Pro tip: Mix up a spray bottle with mostly water, a shot of rubbing alcohol, a couple of capfuls of neem oil, a drop of green liquid soap, and an aspirin. Shake thoroughly before each use, and if it sits more than a week, add a little more alcohol. You can spray this on your plants as needed, and harvest the next day. Just wash the fruit or blooms thoroughly as the spray will leave a weird, bitter taste. The aspirin introduces salicylic acid, which plants use as a signaling mechanism when under attack. Beneficials such as ambush bugs and insectivorous birds will follow a trail of salicylates, expecting to find a feast awaiting.

If you’re doing companion planting, cushaws guild nicely with celery, dill, nasturtiums, onions, cucumbers (although they may compete for ground space, provide a trellis or chicken wire for the cucumber vines to climb), marigolds, oregano, and borage. I’ve seen recommendations for partnering with mint, but I don’t plant mint in my garden. Let’s face it, planting mint is the botanical equivalent of the nuclear option. I’ve only planted it in areas where I wanted to drive out everything else, and it could be contained through mowing or concrete or other harsh barriers.

Once fruit sets on, you can put newspaper under it as you would with a pumpkin, or just ensure that your growing area is properly tended. Watch for blossom end rot and amend with crushed eggshells if you start to see it, as you would with any other fruiting plant. The cushaw will grow to the size of a pumpkin, ending up in the vicinity of ten to twenty pounds (4.5 to 9 kg). Cut the stem a couple inches back from the fruit to harvest, don’t twist and don’t cut too close. You want enough of an umbilicus that it can dry up properly. Figure about three months between planting and first harvest. Like any other large squash, these take time and patience.

If you’re careful with your cushaws, don’t break the skin, and store them in a root cellar or similar space, they can last up to four months. These are not hard-skinned winter squash, even though the skin will toughen if they’re properly stored. Don’t expect them to hold up like a butternut. My recommendation, based on personal experience, is to treat the cushaw like a pumpkin. Cut it up, stew it down, and home-can the puree or freeze it. Toast the seeds and eat them at the time, make molé and preserve that, or store the toasted, dry seeds like you would any other. Home-canned cushaw keeps for about two years if you do it right, or so I’m told, although I’ve never grown enough I didn’t run out by spring.

More authoritative writers than I have already done considerable work documenting this. I’m going to defer to a block quote from the Purdue article Cucurbits by R. Lira Saade and S. Montes. See the Bibliography for full credits.

In Mexico, the var. argyrosperma is grown on the slope of the gulf (Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Puebla, Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas and Yucatán). In Central America it has been recorded in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The var. callicarpa is found mainly on the Pacific slope, from the southeastern United States to central Mexico (Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua. Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Jalisco). The var. stenosperma is endemic to Mexico and is grown in the central and southeastern states (Guerrero, Morelos, Michoacán and Oaxaca) as well as in some areas of the gulf slope (Veracruz and Yucatán).

In the Mixe region of the state of Oaxaca, var. stenosperma is also grown in the dry season on so-called humid ground. This practice is also recorded in some parts of the state of Sonora in northeastern Mexico, where some cultivars of var. callicarpa can be grown in the dry season, but always with the help of irrigation to ensure production throughout the year.

The only form of propagation is the sowing of seed which is done along with some of the traditional crops of this agricultural model (maize, beans and other species of Cucurbita). In some regions of Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca the seeds of C. argyrosperma are often the first to be planted in the maize fields. Sowing begins shortly before the start of the rain and before the other associated crops are sown.

In some localities of Yucatán, sowing is done very quickly the day after the traditional burning of the stubble of the previous crop and long before the first rain and the sowing of other associated crops. The aim is to prevent the development of weeds which would affect production of the other species cultivated in the maize field, utilizing the rapidity of growth and cover attained by this species. Practices of this type show that the seeds of C. argyrosperma are completely suited to these regions and germinate even in conditions of low humidity.

What Do Folks Do With These?

I’m going to talk mainly about culinary uses here. Cushaws do have medicinal uses, but I’m not qualified to speak on that topic. Consult your local botanical medicine authority before attempting any such use of any plant. If that’s yourself, fine and dandy. It’s worth noting that in the Yucatán, cushaw flesh is used to treat burns, sores, and eczema, and the seeds to promote lactation in nursing women and for pain relief. On the other hand, liquid emulsions of the seeds are used in many areas as a vermifuge, coupled with a laxative to expel the parasites. The vastly different effects depending upon preparation and administration methods, should suggest a need for caution.


The species gets its name from its seeds, which were the more important part when the plant was domesticated, and remain foundational to a number of cuisines today. Let’s look at the various ways they’re used, by themselves and as an ingredient in salsas.


Cushaw seeds can be cleaned, seasoned, and toasted or oven roasted like pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Winter Squash Seeds

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup winter squash seeds, rinsed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • sprinkle each of salt, garlic powder, and paprika
  • 1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • 2. Bring water to a boil on the stove.
  • 3. Add the 1 teaspoon salt and seeds and simmer for 10 minutes. This process makes them more easily digestible.
  • 4. Remove seeds from water and dry.
  • 5. Spread seeds on a baking sheet.
  • 6. Drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat.
  • 7. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and paprika.
  • 8. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

You could substitute any combination of seasonings here. Be adventurous!


Serving: 2TBSP | Calories: 35kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.9g | Protein: 1.1g | Fat: 3.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.6g | Sodium: 584mg | Fiber: 0.1g

Mole / Pipián

The name “pipián” comes from the Spaniards calling anything in Mesoamerica that resembled a pumpkin a pepita, and probably should be spelled pepián if you really wanted to be true to the word’s colonialist roots. We’ll stick with pipián as that seems to be the preferred name among Mexican cooks. Note that you will also find a recipe called pipián in the Philippines. According to the Filipino authors I’ve read, Spanish colonizers brought the recipe, then adapted it to use local crops such as pasotes. It’s prepared as a stew rather than meat with a sauce over it. I wasn’t able to find a Filipino recipe that used pumpkin or cushaw seeds; if a reader can send me a link, I will happily edit this article to include it. Yes, there will also be a vegetarian recipe in this section. Notably, it comes from a vegetarian Indigenous Mexican couple, who turned to their culinary roots for their own health, a book entitled Decolonize Your Diet. It’s listed in the Bibliography. You should probably read it. No, everybody, all of you.

Essentially, this is a mole type salsa, made by roasting pumpkin or cushaw seeds with spices and tomatoes (for pipián rojo) or tomatillos (for pipián verde), then running it through a blender and a sieve to get a smooth sauce. Some of the recipes I’m citing in this section probably started with pumpkin seeds, as they were written after pumpkins overtook cushaws as a preferred cash crop in American farming. Others undoubtedly started with cushaw, based on geographic origin and age, and had pumpkin swapped in as the cushaws became hard to find and were forgotten. I’ve taken the (probably high handed) liberty of substituting cushaw for pumpkin as necessary in the following recipes.

We’ll start off with a very basic cushaw mole, then a recipe for the red sauce and one for the green sauce.

Pipian de Gallina

This recipe comes from Cocina de Chihuahua by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, published in Mexico City, probably in the early 1950s.

  • 1 gallina
  • 1/4 kilo de semilla de calabaza,(de la semilla alargada y de cascara blanda)
  • 1/4 de taza de maiz
  • 2 dientes de ajo
  • 4 chiles colorado de la tierra
  • 35 gramos de manteca
  • 1 litro de caldo en que se cocio la gallina
  • 1. El maiz, la semilla de calabaza, los chiles, y los dientes de ajo se doran en la manteca.
  • 2. Se muele perfectamente procurando quede una pasta muy tersa.
  • 3. Se desbaratan en el caldo.
  • 4. Se agreda la gallina cortada en piezas y ya cocida.
  • 5. Se deja hervir hasta que espesa y se serve luego.
  • A chicken, simmered until tender, with garlic, bay leaf and chile
  • 1/2 lb. pumpkin or squash seed, check Mexican or South American market.
  • 1/4 cup Masa Harina, again, Mexican market
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 large, dry red chiles
  • 2 Tbl lard (or cooking oil)
  • 1 quart of the chicken broth
  • 1. Brown the masa, seeds, chiles and garlic a bit in the lard.
  • 2. Grind together well into a paste.
  • 3. Stir in the chicken broth and simmer up a bit until well blended.
  • 4. Add the cut-up chicken to the pipian, simmer a bit more and serve.

Pipián Rojo

Mely Martinez is a Mexican food writer living in the USA. She grew up in Tampico, in Tamaulipas, and spent her summers in Veracruz state on her grandmother’s farm. She has a cookbook available at her website.

  • 1 ½ Pork loin cut into large cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Ancho peppers, seeded & deveined
  • 2 Guajillo peppers, seeded & deveined
  • 1 chipotle pepper
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  • 1/3 cup cushaw seeds
  • ¼ sesame seeds
  • 1- in cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1/3 medium white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Once the oil is hot, add the meat, and sear both sides, turning once when the meat gets a light golden color. This step will take about 5 minutes total. Add one cup of water to the saucepan and cover to simmer and cook until the meat is almost fork-tender.
  • 2. While the meat is cooking, let’s prepare the sauce. Prepare a medium-size saucepan with 2 cups of water where you are going to be placing all the toasted ingredients. Toast the peppers over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds per side. Place in the saucepan.
  • 3. Lightly toast the seeds in a skillet or frying pan. We’ll start with the larger seeds: first the peanuts, then the cushaw seeds and finally the sesame seeds. Toasting the peanuts will take about 1-1/2 minutes, afterward remove and place in a bowl. Toast the cushaw seeds, being careful not to burn them. Once they start to get a golden color, they will begin to jump; use a wooden spatula to stir. This step is a very quick one, and the same process applies to the sesame seeds that will be roasted in a matter of seconds. Place roasted seeds in the bowl with the water.
  • 4. Now, slightly roast cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves and allspice berries. Place them in the bowl with water once toasted.
  • 5. Finally, roast the tomatoes, onion, and garlic, turning occasionally to obtain an even roasting. Place in the bowl with the water.
  • 6. Place the bowl’s contents in the saucepan over a medium-high heat and cook for about 8 minutes; set aside to let the ingredients soften.
  • 7. Check the meat for doneness, and add more water if needed.
  • 8. Place all the sauce’s ingredients in your blender pitcher and process until you have a smooth and robust sauce. Do not process it for a long period of time, just enough to blend the ingredients.
  • 9. Pour the sauce into a large skillet, turn up the heat to medium-high, and slowly cook the sauce. Add the pieces of meat and stir occasionally. Keep cooking for about 10 minutes. The fats will float over the surface by now. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little chicken broth or water. Season with salt and pepper.
  • 10. Serve with rice and warm corn tortillas.

Don’t over stir the sauce in the final cooking period, to prevent curdling the sauce.


Serving: 4oz | Calories: 328kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 71mg | Sodium: 502mg | Potassium: 782mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 3440IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 83mg | Iron: 3.1mg

Pipián Verde

Marcela Valladolid is a celebrity chef with her own show, Mexican Made Easy, and is a host on The Kitchen, on Food Network. This recipe was presented on Mexican Made Easy, on the episode Cross Country Cocina.

  • 4 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup cushaw seeds
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 serrano chile, stemmed
  • 1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, preferably organic, warmed
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1. For the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • 2. Slide your fingertips beneath the skin of each chicken breast to loosen. Drizzle each breast with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, rubbing beneath and on top of the skin.
  • 3. Place the chicken on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and roast in the oven until the chicken is cooked through, about 35 minutes. Set aside and cover with foil to keep warm.
  • 4. Meanwhile, for the sauce: Preheat a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot. Toast the cushaw seeds, stirring constantly, until they have expanded and begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish.
  • 5. In a medium, heavy saucepan, simmer the tomatillos, serrano and onions in salted water to cover until the tomatillos turn a dark green color, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos, serrano and onions to a blender and puree with the chicken broth, cilantro, sugar and toasted cushaw seeds until smooth (the sauce will be a little coarse). Season with salt and pepper.
  • 6. To serve, remove the skin from the chicken breasts and slice the chicken crosswise on the bias. Transfer to a serving plate. Spoon the green pipian sauce on top and garnish with the reserved toasted cushaw seeds.

Pipian Rojo Over Rice

Recipe from the book Decolonize Your Diet by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Recipe posted at source site with permission from author.

  • Sauce
    • 2 Corn tortillas
    • 3 Guajillo chiles, dried, deseeded
    • 5 Pasilla chiles, dried, deseeded
    • 1 Chile de Arbol, dried, deseeded
    • 1 White onion, peeled, and quartered
    • 2 Garlic, whole, unpeeled
    • 2 Medium tomatoes
    • 3/4 cup cushaw seeds, raw, hulled (pepitas)
    • 8 Allspice berries, whole
    • 6 Peppercorns
    • 1 tsp. Achiote, ground
    • 1/2 tsp. Sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • Stew
    • 5 Purple potatoes, medium-sized, scrubbed
    • 1/2 lb. Green beans, ends removed
    • 1 Chayote, peeled
    • 1 Onion, diced
    • 3 tbsp. Olive oil (optional)
    • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
    • 1/2 tsp. Sea salt
    • 2 tbsp. cushaw seed oil (optional)
    • 2 cups Cooked rice (white or brown)
    • 1/4 cup cushaw seeds, raw, hulled, for garnish
    • 1/4 cup Cilantro, leaves only


  • 1. On a griddle on medium high-heat, toast corn tortillas until crispy and slightly charred. Set aside. On the same griddle, toast dried chiles for 1 minute on each side, taking care not to burn. Put chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Use a small plate to keep chiles submerged for 30 minutes.
  • 2. On same hot griddle, slightly char onions and garlic, about 4 minutes. Peel garlic and place it with onions in blender. Put whole tomatoes on griddle and turn often to char on several sides, then add to blender. When chiles have finished soaking, drain, and add to blender.
  • 3. On same hot griddle, toast cushaw seeds until they begin to puff up. Reserve 1/4 cup of cushaw seeds for garnish, and add the rest to the blender. On griddle, toast allspice and peppercorns for a few seconds and add to blender with achiote, salt, and pepper. 
  • 4. Break charred tortillas into quarters and add to blender. Purée until ingredients form a smooth sauce. If necessary, work in batches or add a small amount of water to blender to process smoothly. Sauce should have the consistency of a tomato sauce or just a little bit chunkier.


  • 1. Coarsely chop potatoes, green beans, and chayote into hearty, bite-sized chunks and set aside. In a large pot on medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add potatoes, green beans, and chayote and stir to combine. 
  • 2. Season vegetables with salt. Add just enough water to cover vegetables and bring to a boil. Stir in pipian sauce. Lower heat to medium simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are fork-tender. Adjust seasonings.
  • 3. Divide rice between bowls and serve pipian over rice. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of cushaw seed oil, cushaw seeds, and cilantro leaves.

Fruit / Flesh

As previously noted, you can substitute cushaw for just about anything that requires pumpkin. The flavor will change, as cushaw has a lighter, less strong taste.

In his encyclopedia of Louisiana cooking traditions, the chef John Folse says that old Creole and Cajun cooks call the spiced and sweetened cushaw by the name Juirdmon. Lolis Elie, a New Orleans writer, fondly remembers the cushaw pies that his grandmother made from harvests in Maringouin, Louisiana; he finds a worthy substitute in the cushaw pies that Francis Chauvin sells at a farmers’ market in New Orleans (before his death in 2004, Chauvin’s husband grew the cushaws she used for her pies), but Elie laments that the squash is otherwise difficult to come by. “You get the impression that the few farmers who actually grow cushaw don’t expect to sell many of them. When I see them, I tend to buy several at a time for fear that I might not see them again,” he writes in a 2006 article published in the Times-Picayune. Gary Nabhan backs up Lolis Elie’s lament about the difficulty of obtaining grown cushaws with his own observation: “It’s not that the fruit can’t be found; it’s that they are being produced in such small numbers that it seems unlikely that future generations of farmers will find it worthwhile to cultivate them.”

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, Green-Striped Cushaw, https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/green-striped-cushaw/, retrieved 2020-06-26


Cushaw recipes in Appalachia tend to use the flesh for sweet dishes, with the seeds discarded. You already know better than to do that. Making cushaw butter remains a family tradition in some parts of Tennessee. There’s a couple of recipes here, or use your favorite apple butter recipe and substitute cushaw puree for the apples. Appalachia and Louisiana Creole traditions include cushaw pie and turnovers, and I’ll definitely be looking at those.

Pro Tip: Cushaws are hard to peel. Split them, scoop out the seeds and guts, then oven roast them with a few holes poked in the skin with a fork. Let them cool and scoop out the flesh. Voila, your cushaw is now ready to make into pies, cookies, or whatever with a lot less mess and effort.

Cushaw Butter

  • 10 c. cubed, pared raw cushaw
  • 3 c. apple juice or cider
  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1. Prepare cushaw, cutting away blemishes or soft flesh.
  • 2. Heat cubed pared cushaw and juices in large kettle to boiling, reduce heat.
  • 3. Simmer, uncovered 20-30 minutes.
  • 4. Remove from heat. Puree until consistency of applesauce.
  • 5. Heat to boiling, reduce heat.
  • 6. Simmer until mixture mounds on spoon, about 2 hours.
  • 7. Stir in sugar and spices.
  • 8. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.
  • 9. Pour into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Seal immediately or process in boiling water bath to ensure seal.

Cushaw Butter

  • 6 lbs. cushaw
  • 5 lb. light brown sugar
  • 5 lemons
  • 2 tbsp. ginger
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 pt. water
  • 1. Peel vegetables. Chop them fine or put through a food grinder.
  • 2. Add spices and sugar together with lemon juice and rind and put them through the chopper.
  • 3. Let stand overnight.
  • 4. In the morning, add 1 pint of water.
  • 5. Boil gently until the vegetables are clear and soft, and the mixture is thick. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Cushaw Pie a la Picayune

The Picayune Original Creole Cookbook, first published in 1900, contains a recipe for pumpkin pie, or “Tarte de Citrouille”. The first line reads, “Use the delicate Cushaws for this recipe.” I’m using the 1901 version, with slight editing to put in cushaw for pumpkin.

  • A Pint of Mashed, Stewed Cushaw
  • A Pint of Milk
  • 3 Tablespoonfuls of Butter
  • ¼ Teaspoonful of Salt
  • 4 Eggs
  • A Cupful of Sugar
  • ½ Teaspoonful Each of Ground Mace, Cinnamon and Allspice
  • A Tablespoonful of Brandy (If Desired)
  • Powdered White Sugar
  • 1. Boil a quart of cushaw, cut into dice-shaped pieces, putting it on with just water enough to keep from burning, say about a quarter of a cupful.
  • 2. Let it stew slowly for an hour, at least, or until tender. Then drain and press through a colander.
  • 3. Add a good tablespoonful of butter and a quarter of a teaspoonful of salt. Mix well, and let it cool.
  • 4. When cool, put the cushaw, using one pint, into a large bowl, and add the pint of milk, the ground spices, and mix all well together, and add the above amount of sugar, or sugar to taste.
  • 5. Then beat four eggs well and add to the mixture.
  • 6. Add a tablespoonful of Brandy, if desired.
  • 7. Line the pie pans, and bake the Under Crust.
  • 8. Fill with the mixture, and bake in a quick oven for half an hour.
  • 9. When cold, sprinkle lightly with powdered white sugar, and serve. This quantity will make three Pies.

Creole Cushaw Pie

A modern recipe with more detail in the instructions, from the Louisiana Cookin’ website. Obviously, if you have 2 cups of cushaw puree on hand, you can skip the whole roasting process, steps 1 to 3.

  • 8 cups peeled and cubed cushaw squash (about ¾-inch)
  • ½ (14.1-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • ⅔ cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • Sweetened whipped cream, to serve
  • 1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place racks in center of oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil, and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  • 2. Divide squash evenly between baking sheets. Cover with foil, and bake 35 to 45 minutes or until tender. Rotate pans half way through cooking time. Let cool to room temperature.
  • 3. Line a fine mesh sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth, and place over a large bowl. Place contents of 1 sheet pan into prepared sieve. Carefully bring together ends of cheesecloth, and squeeze into a ball shape, ringing out excess water from the squash. Repeat with remaining squash. Combine squash in sieve over a large bowl; cover, and let stand in refrigerator 1 hour or overnight. Roasted squash should yield about 2 cups.
  • 4. Preheat oven to 375°.
  • 5. On a lightly floured surface, roll piecrust into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate, pressing into bottom and up sides of plate. Fold edges under, and crimp as desired. Top with a piece of parchment paper, letting ends extend over edges of plate. Add pie weights. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully remove paper and weights. Let crust cool on a wire rack while preparing filling.
  • 6. Reduce oven temperature to 350°.
  • 7. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine squash, brown sugar, eggs, cream, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Process until smooth, and spoon into piecrust. Cover edge of piecrust with foil to prevent excess browning. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Cushaw Cookies

From my own cookbook, adapted from a pumpkin cookie recipe from the early 1900s. I was able to sell these for $5 a dozen.

  • Cook TIME
  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg (rounded)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp or 4 oz) butter
  • 1 cup cushaw puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1. Set the butter out to soften an hour ahead of time. Preheat oven to 350.
  • 2. Sift together all the dry ingredients.
  • 3. Cream together the butter and sugar.
  • 4. Add the remaining wet ingredients to the creamed butter/sugar.
  • 5. Fold in the dry ingredients. Be gentle, you don’t want to wake the gluten.
  • 6. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet.
  • 7. Bake 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on the sheet for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack.


Some folks like their cushaws sweet, some like it with onion and rosemary. I’ve got a recipe for stuffed acorn squash I’ve been thinking about trying with a cushaw, if I can manage to grow another.

Roasted Cushaw Squash

Katie Wells wrote this recipe for Wellness Mama.

  • 6 cups cubed or sliced cushaw peeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1. In a large bowl, toss cushaw cubes with olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt.
  • 2. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet.
  • 3. Cook in 400°F oven for 15 minutes.
  • 4. Stir and cook for 10 minutes more.

To make roasted slices instead of cubes: Brush or spray with olive oil. Lay flat on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping halfway through.


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 124kcal | Carbohydrates: 21.9g | Protein: 1.8g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 0.7g | Sodium: 396mg | Fiber: 6.8g | Sugar: 4g

Cushaw Soup

  • 5 cups of peeled cubed cushaw or other winter squash
  • 1 medium potato-peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1. Combine water and chicken stock. Place cushaw, potato, salt, and half of the broth water mixture into a sauce pot. Cook for about 45 minutes or until vegetables are cooked.
  • 2. Lift squash and potato out and into a food processor to process until smooth. Or use a submersible blender if you have one and cream the mixture in the pot (that’s what I do). Or you could leave the soup alone and have a chunkier consistency.
  • 3. With pureed soup back in pot-continue to cook-adding in reserved liquid to adjust the thickness of the soup to your liking. Once it’s to your liking-stir in the cream.

Home Canning

First off: I am not an authority on this subject. See your home extension office or other appropriate local or national authority on small agriculture for often-free information on how to safely home-preserve food. The Ball home canning handbook is generally considered authoritative in the United States.

That said, I have anecdotal and practical experience with home canning cushaws and later using them in baked goods. I’ve stewed down, frozen, and pressure-canned a fair amount of cushaw, used it in later cooking that I and my family and friends consumed, and suffered no ill effects other than a bit of weight gain when I was making the cookies regularly. Let me offer a few bullet points here, tips from my kitchen lab notebook (what, you don’t keep a notebook on your cooking efforts?) that I’ve accumulated, and then defer to the authorities on safe food preservation as previously noted.

  • Can in pints rather than quarts. Yes, it takes more glass, more shelf space, more time and effort, and more expense for all those darned jars, but you’ll find yourself with half a quart in the fridge and trying to do something with it before it goes bad, or making double batches of cookies and your waistline will hate you.
  • Follow the instructions for pumpkin or apple butter or similar foodstuffs in your localized home canning guide. When in doubt, talk with someone who’s been home canning for several years and eating their own preserved items. Nothing beats expert advice gained from experience.
  • When you oven roast a cushaw, let it cool for longer than you think you need to. Those things hold heat like a brick.
  • When you scoop out a roasted cushaw, expect a few more strings of guts. Some of those are down tight into the flesh and have to cook out.
  • Poke holes in the skin like you would a potato. It’ll let a lot of moisture out that you really don’t need.
  • Wash and prep the seeds while the cushaw is roasting. If you’re going to toast the seeds, you can get them set up, and pop them straight into a hot oven when your cushaw comes out. If not, you can use the oven for dehydrating as it cools.
  • If you can, use brown glass, or put the cushaw jars on the back shelves, away from the light. It may just be me, but I’ve found the stuff to be photosensitive like beer, and had a couple jars discolor without having any obvious signs of botulism. Tossed’em anyway, never take chances with this stuff.
  • Cushaw makes a finer puree than pumpkin, and may be a bit more applesauce in consistency than tinned frosting or tomato paste. Remember that your dough or filling may be a bit more loose than you expect the first time you substitute cushaw for pumpkin in a familiar recipe.
  • Cushaw puree freezes well, and should be double-bagged and taped to prevent freezer burn. Uncooked or cooked cushaw wedges, cleaned and with seeds removed, freeze okay, but it's better to finish the prep work and do the puree. Suggest freezing in 2-cup portions, like using pints instead of quarts with jars. Same reason.
  • Nutmeg complements cushaw nicely. Consider it if you’re making sweets, and maybe add to the puree before you can it if you want to pre-season.

In Summary

The green striped cushaw grows easily under somewhat adverse conditions. It’s cultivated nowadays in a widespread area from South America up to Canada, often by home gardeners and small-crop farmers. Its seeds are the foundation for salsas and moles throughout their ancestral regions, and in wider use thanks to the efforts of Mexican cooks and celebrity chefs. The flesh can be substituted for pumpkin in most recipes, which gives North American cooks a pre-made repertoire with one native cucurbit swapping in for another. Louisiana folks have given us cushaw pie, which I’ve seen all the way up in Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The puree cans and freezes well, and takes no more effort than stewing down a pumpkin or an acorn squash. Seed is readily available from a wide number of sources. I got my first batch from a seed swap with an organic gardener in Kentucky. Heritage seed distributors like Southern Exposure and Seed Savers carry cushaws and their relatives, helping preserve heirloom crops. Have you got space for one of these on your patio, in your garden, on your farm? There’s folks out there just itchin’ to get hold of one for so many reasons.

Further Reading &c

Links for additional reading, videos of cushaw farmers,and that sort of thing.


Let’s make sure we’ve documented our sources properly.

Books and Papers

Luz Calvo, Catriona Rueda Esquibel, Decolonize Your Diet (California: Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551525921, 2015)

R. Lira Saade (National Herbarium of Mexico, Mexico City) and S. Montes Hernández (CIFAP, SARH, Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico), Cucurbits (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/1492/cucurbits.html, retrieved 2020-06-26)

Works cited in the Purdue article:

  • Andrés, T.C. 1990. Biosystematics, theories on the origin and breeding potential of Cucurbita ficifolia. In D.M. Bates, R.W. Robinson & C. Jeffrey, eds. Biology and utilization of the Cucurbitaceae, p. 102-199. Ithaca, N.Y., USA, Cornell University Press.
  • Azurdia, C.A. & González, M. 1986. Informe final del proyecto de recolección de algunos cultivos nativos de Guatemala. Guatemala, University of San Carlos/ICTA/IBPGR.
  • Bailey, L.H. The domesticated cucurbits. First Paper. Genet. Herb., 2: 23-34.
  • Bates, D.M., Robinson, R.W. & Jeffrey, C., eds. 1990. Biology and utilization of the Cucurbitaceae. Ithaca, N.Y., USA, Cornell University Press.
  • Bukasov, S.M. 1981. Las plantas cultivadas en México, Guatemala y Colombia. Turrialba, Costa Rica, GATIE-GTZ. (Spanish translation by J. León)
  • Delgadillo, S.F., Garzon, T.J.A. & Vega, P.A. 1989. Cucurbit viruses in Mexico: a survey. Fitopatología, 7(2): 136-139.
  • Lira, R. 1990. Estudios taxonómico y ecogeográfico de las Cucurbitáceas de Latinoamérica. 1st biannual report (Jan.-Aug. 1990). Rome, IBPGR.
  • Lira, R. 1991. Estudios taxonómico y ecogeográfico de las Cucurbitáceas de Latinoamérica. 2nd biannual report (Aug. 1990-Jan. 1991). Rome, IBPGR.
  • Lira, R. 1991. Estudios taxonómico y ecogeográfico de las Cucurbitáceas de Latinoamérica. 3rd biannual report (Jan.-Aug. 1991). Rome, IBPGR.
  • Merrick, L.C. 1990. Systematics and evolution of a domesticated squash, Cucurbita argyrosperma and its wild and weedy relatives. In D.M. Bates, R.W. Robinson & C. Jeffrey, eds. Biology and utilization of the Cucurbitaceae. Ithaca, N.Y., USA, Cornell University Press.
  • Paris, H.S. 1989. Historical records, origins and development of the edible cultivar groups of Cucurbita pepo (Cucurbitaceae). Econ. Bot., 43: 423-443.
  • Whitaker, T.W. & Davis, G.N. 1962. Cucurbits, botany, cultivation and utilization. London, Leonard Hill.

Web Pages

Creole Cushaw Pie (https://www.louisianacookin.com/creole-cushaw-pie/, retrieved 2020-07-10)

Cucurbita argyrosperma, Plants for a Future (https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cucurbita+argyrosperma, retrieved 2020-05-25)

Cushaw Butter recipes (http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m0327M06.htm, retrievedd 2020-07-10)

Cushaw Green Striped Pumpkin Seeds (https://www.everwilde.com/store/Cushaw-Green-Striped-Pumpkin-Seeds.html, retrieved 2020-07-11)

Cushaw Soup (https://blindpigandtheacorn.com/cushaw-soup/, retrieved 2020-07-10)

de Leon, Josefina Velazquez, Pipian de Gallina, Cocina de Chihuahua, Mexico City, probably in the early 1950s, cited at http://www.bruce-moffitt-recipes.com/mexican/pipian.html, retrieved 2020-07-10.

Gardening Know How: Cushaw Squash Plants – How And When To Plant Cushaw Squash (https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/squash/growing-cushaw-squash-plants.htm, retrieved 2020-05-30)

Multilingual Multiscript Plant Name Database, Sorting Cucurbita Names (http://www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/Sorting/Cucurbita.html, retrieved 2020-06-26)

Pipián Rojo (https://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/pipian-rojo-recipe-creamy-red-sauce/, retrieved 2020-07-10)

Pipian Rojo Over Rice (from Decolonize Your Diet, posted at https://dorastable.com/pipian-rojo-over-rice-decolonize-your-diet/, retrieved 2020-07-10)

Pipián Verde (https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/chicken-in-green-pipian-sauce-recipe-1952844, retrieved 2020-07-10)

Roasted Cushaw Squash (https://wellnessmama.com/61326/cushaw-squash/, retrieved 2020-06-30)

Roasted Winter Squash Seeds (https://wellnessmama.com/61445/roast-winter-squash-seeds/ retrieved 2020-07-09)

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, Green-Striped Cushaw (https://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/ark-of-taste-slow-food/green-striped-cushaw/, retrieved 2020-06-26)

Tarte de Citrouille from the Picayune Original Creole Cook Book (https://app.ckbk.com/book/0486423247/the-picayunes-creole-cook-book, retrieved 2020-07-10)

Updated Algonquian Word List by Scott Dawson (https://www.coastalcarolinaindians.com/updated-algonquian-word-list-by-scott-dawson/, retreived 2020-07-11)

Additional Credits

Editing by Tiffany Jones Ragland, much appreciated

Proofing by kif, appreciate the assist on the Indigenous name issue