A gem squash is a summer squash grown in South Africa. It is a round, dark green squash that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Gem squash can easily be grown in a sunny location, and seeds — which were once hard to obtain — are fairly readily available through mail-order companies. Dried squash are used as decorative gourds in the fall.
This squash is related to the butternut squash and the pumpkin. It is edible at all stages of its growth. Early gems are the size of golf balls, and the skin and seeds are edible, as is the flesh. As this vegetable matures, the skin hardens to protect the flesh within and begins to turn orange. A full-size gem is about the size of an acorn squash.
Young gems can be baked whole in the oven or microwave but should be pierced before cooking. All sizes of gems are frequently cut in half and baked, broiled or grilled. The seeds can be scooped out before cooking and the halves can be filled with cheeses, meats, creamed corn and spices. They have a sweet flavor, so cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar also are popular flavorings for gems. Gems also are boiled and mashed with flavorings and cheese.
Gem plants are started from seeds, which can be sown in early spring through early summer. One can purchase seeds or use seeds that were saved from a gem squash for planting in the next season. Saved seeds are left to dry and then kept in a cool place until it is time to plant.
It is recommended that one select a sunny spot in the garden for these plants. They do best with rich, composted soil that is kept moist. Seedlings appear within two weeks of sowing, and the squash are ready to be harvested several months after that. Gem squash plants are prone to attack by mildew that can be treated with a soapy solution. They also are attractive to cucumber beetles and squash bugs that can be repelled naturally.
When buying gem squash, it is recommended that one examine the skin, which should be unbroken and have no soft spots. The squash should feel hard and solid. When thumped, it should give out a hollow sound.
Mature gem squash have very hard shells and are used as decorations in the fall. If one cuts a mature gem in half and extracts the flesh, the shells can be dried and will harden further. They can be painted and used as decorative bowls, candle holders and potpourri dishes.