Pipián is an inmature cucurbit that is a popular in several parts of Central America and Southern Mexico (Figure 1). This cucurbit used to be called a different species, C. mixta, but it is now known as C. argyrosperma. Like all squashes in the genus Cucurbita, the center of origin of pipián is the tropical Americas, specifically Southern Mexico and Central America. The world pipián is used in Mexico to refer to a sauce made from the seeds of cucurbits. In El Salvador, the word pipián is used to refer to immature fruit of Cucurbita argyrosperma.
The fruit is harvested and used when immature. Farmers will let a certain percentage of the fruit to mature in order to save seed for the next seeding (Figure 2). There are no hybrid varieties of pipián available, so farmers will save their own seed, which can also lead to tremendous variation in phenotypes produced since this crop is monecious (i.e. each plant has both male and female flowers).
In El Salvador, pipián is used in dishes as a vegetable, including being stuffed into pupusas.
Pipián is a vining crop and needs more space than bush types of cucurbits. Based on trials of pipián at the UMass Research Farm in 2006, it is recommended to plant 2,000 plants per acre. Marketable fruit began to appear four to five weeks after transplanting and plants continued to produce fruit right up to frost. Pipián can also be direct seeded in the Northeastern United States, like any cucurbit; however, one should ensure there is a good germination rate before direct seeding. If the germination rate is low, then transplants would be recommended.
In 2006, we started to get fruit production four weeks after transplanting (Figure 3) and marketable sizes five weeks after transplanting, which is about 6 inches long (Figure 4). The market did not want pipián fruit that was much bigger than 6 inches long. It was essential to go through the field daily in order to find fruit that had reached the optimum size and had not exceeded it. This was especially important since the leaves of the pipián plants covered the fruit so they could not be seen without walking through the field. To illustrate this point, traditional sized pipián and larger sizes were brought to a cooperating market in New Bedford Massachusetts in 2006. The market owner accepted the larger sizes, but marked them down. The traditional sized pipián sold for $2.49/lbs. while the larger ones sold for $1.69/lbs. (Figure 5).
Another issue that negatively impacted sales of locally-grown pipián was competition from “cousa” types of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo). These Mid-Eastern types of summer squash have a similar texture and flavor to pipián and thus have been accepted as a substitute (Figure 6). In fact, some Central Americans living in Massachusetts rejected pipián varieties from El Salvador for the cousa types, perhaps since they had been living in the United States for so long that they have become accustomed to cousa types. In addition, some market owners were not willing to pay the higher price being charged for pipián, as a specialty item, compared to the lower price for cousa types.
As a member of the curcurbit family, fertility and pest management strategies will be the same as for pumpkin and squash varieties grown in the Northeast. For information on production and management of pipián, refer to the New England Vegetable Management Guide and click on "pumpkin and squash" under "crops".
Currently there are no known sources of commercially-available seed for pipián. Unless you can find sources, we recommend using cousa-types. There are several coua varieties available, including 'magda', 'Alexandria', 'Lebanese White Bush Marrow Squash"
Post-Harvest and Packing
Pipián should be stored under the same conditions as other cucurbits: 55°-60° F and 50–75% Relative humidity. Table 16: Handling Produce for Higher Quality and Longer Market Life, New England Vegetable Management Guide