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When is a zucchini not a zucchini? A guide to the history of the world's most popular summer squash

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Cantoni coverPeople accused me of being a tease when I originally published that banner photograph up there and said that it was not a zucchini. It was, I admit, a deliberate provocation. It all depends on whether we’re speaking English or Italian. Because in English it isn’t, strictly speaking, a zucchini. It is a cocozelle, a type of summer squash that differs from a zucchini in a couple of important ways, one being that it hangs onto its flower a lot longer. So a flower on a cocozelle is not the guarantee of freshness that it is on a true zucchini. In Italian, however, it is a zucchini. Or rather, a zucchina. Because in modern Italian, all summer squashes are zucchine.

squashes

Teresa Lust is a linguist and food writer. Harry Paris is a plant breeder who specialises in pumpkins, melons and the like. Together, they have just published a paper that pushes back the known history of the zucchini. They guided me through the somewhat convoluted history of true pumpkins in Italy.

It’s a story of exploration, aristocracy and promiscuity. What more could you want?

Notes

  1. Italian horticultural and culinary records of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbitaceae) and emergence of the zucchini in 19th-century Milan, by Teresa A. Lust and Harry S. Paris, Annals of Botany 118: 53–69, 2016

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