Technically a fruit, squashes (Cucurbito pepo) originated in the Americas, were adopted by European explorers and settlers, and have spread throughout the world. There are five species and many cultivars, which include varieties of squash, zucchini, gourds, and pumpkins. Jefferson tended to generalize, referring only to squashes, pumpkins, cymlings, and gourds, occasionally using “long” or “warted” to differentiate the cultivars.
Squashes tend to be grouped into summer and winter varieties. Both are planted around the same time, but the summer squash is harvested and eaten while the skin is still soft. Winter varieties have matured longer and tend to have thicker, harder skins, although some are still edible. The cymling, the one squash that Jefferson named specifically, is also known as the pattypan squash. Like many varieties of squash, it can be eaten young while the skin is thin and tender or mature as long as the skin is roasted until soft.
Jefferson made note of cymling, pumpkin, and gourd vines falling victim to frost as early as August. The cymling and squash arrived at table in June and July of 1803, 1804, 1807, and 1808, indicating that Jefferson was dining on young squash. The Washington vegetable market chart records squashes as being available June to early October. Jefferson was most likely only noting the first appearance of the squash because of its utility as an indicator of growing climate.
Edwin Morris Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824 (Philadelphia, 1944).
Peter J. Hatch, “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello (New Haven, 2012), 151-4.