Squash, along with cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes and pumpkins, belongs to the gourd family.

Squash is classified into two main groups - summer and winter, though those groupings are something of a misnomer, as many summer and winter squash varietals are now available year-round. What determines a squash’s classification is how fast it grows and at what stage it is harvested.

The summer squash varietals we are most familiar with here in Louisiana - and the ones that grow in our local gardens - are the yellow, also known as crookneck or straight neck, pattypan or scallop, and zucchini or Italian.

Summer squashes all have thin, edible skins and soft seeds and are picked before they get mature because as they mature, the skin hardens and seeds get big and tough.

The winter squash matures on the vine and has thick, hard rinds and tough seeds. Fortunately, we’re able to get summer squash in the winter and winter squash in the summer.

Tender, fresh yellow squash can be cooked whole, halved, sliced, cubed or shredded and also eaten raw in salads, marinated or used for dippers. Its delicate flavor combines well with so many spices and seasonings.

The more immature the squash the better; however, because of its immaturity, summer squash does not keep well. For best flavor and texture, use it as soon as possible after getting it and do not overcook.

These four recipes are a little different from the usual and are all easy to make. The recipe for Betty Starnes’ Seafood Squash Dressing is a particular favorite. Starnes shared it with me a long time ago and it has become something of a Baton Rouge classic. She created the dish years ago when her dad had more squash coming out of his garden then he knew what to do with. She calls it a dressing “only because it has breadcrumbs in it.” It’s a good combination of squash, seasonings and cheese.