Until 100 years ago, the most commonly served summer squash were round, flattened patty pan (or pattypan) squash. An ancestral food of eastern North America, patty pan squashes were the only type of squash that was eaten when young and tender; other varieties were allowed to ripen into pumpkins and gourds. Patty pan squash is the original summer squash, or “askutasquash” in the Narragansett language.
Shapely, prolific and easy to grow, patty pan squash earned a list of names as it spread across the globe. American colonists called the fruits “cymlings” because the curved edges looked like those of an Easter Simnel cake. The French called them “pâtisson,” after another moulded cake, and this was likely the origin of the patty pan name. Australians called them button squash. Today, many US garden seed catalogues call them scallop squash, while in food circles they are often called scallopini or tulip squash. Some people know them as flying saucers.
Patty Pan Squash Varieties
If you want to grow a truly historic vegetable, start with ’Early White Bush’, a well-behaved producer of white fruits that has been grown in gardens for 300 years. Should you be growing a Native American Three Sisters Garden comprised of corn, beans and squash, ‘Early White Bush’ would be an authentic choice. Favoured for its light green colour, vigorous ‘Benning's Green Tint’ has been around for a century, and it is a favourite among seed savers. Also worth seeking out are old French varieties like ‘Patisson Panache Verte et Blanc’ (1856) or ‘Jaun et Verte’, which are white when young and tender. Older fruits left unpicked develop hard rinds with dark green stripes, and last for a year as decorative gourds.
Beautiful hybrids bred for colour and productivity include yellow and green ‘Sunburst’ and dark green ‘Total Eclipse’, both of which grow as open bushes. Variety mixtures featuring yellow, light green and dark green fruits prevent squash boredom and are great fun to grow in the summer garden.
Growing Patty Pan Squash
Like other summer squash, patty pan squash is a warm-season crop best planted from late spring to early summer. There is no need to start seeds indoors, because the large seeds germinate within days after planting in warm garden soil. Plants can be grown in rows or hills, and you won’t need many. Three to four plants will produce a generous crop of beautiful squash that needs to be harvested at least twice a week. Use clippers to cut the fruits with a short stub of green stem attached while they are young and tender.
The sprawling bushes resemble yellow crookneck squash in their growth habit, but are of slightly less interest to squash vine borers (a problem pest in the US). They are also less susceptible to powdery mildew compared to most summer squash, though disease, insects and exhaustion catch up with the plants late in the season. Expect the harvest season to start about 60 days after planting and last about a month.
Cooking with Patty Pan Squash
Historically, patty pan squash was cut into chunks, cooked until soft with a little salt, and then mashed with butter and cream. It was also served breaded and fried, like aubergine. The slightly dense texture of patty pan squash helps it hold its shape when roasted in the oven or air fryer, or you can cut crosswise “steaks” for grilling.
Patty pans are a top squash for stuffing with grains, meats or even pasta. To prepare a patty pan squash for stuffing, cut across the stem end to create a flat base, and then use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out about half of the flesh. Sprinkle the prepared squash with salt and set aside to drain while you prepare a filling.
When supply exceeds demand, use patty pan squash to make pickle relish, or carve, blanch, and freeze patty pan “boats” to enjoy in winter. These can be great fun to bring out during the holidays, when the fluted edible bowls seem very special indeed.