Monday, April 30, 2007

Spaghetti Squash

An earlier discussion of Portobello mushrooms revealed how food changes in the not too distant past, within living memory, can be surprisingly obscure. So it is with spaghetti squash.

A Washington Post article on it from last summer, which opens with a complaint about pretend foods — and here I will admit that I enjoy some of the things it condemns, like Tofurky or soy burgers, more in their own right than as substitutes for things I don't even remember, and even more so the fascinating textures of the vegan mock meats I mentioned before — says:

The spaghetti squash is a New World plant that originated somewhere in the Americas. No one knows how or why it evolved into an imitation of an Old World vehicle for red sauce.

The Cambridge World History of Food (contents here) says (p. 1856):

This relatively new squash variety - the origin of which is uncertain …

The Food Chronology timeline mentions spaghetti squash under 1962 in a longish list of innovations by Frieda's, which began then. The online food timeline has Orangetti spaghetti squash for 1986. I believe in both cases the author felt this interesting vegetable warranted something, but didn't manage to find a full story. Surely with a little digging, there is more to be learned.

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Spaghetti squash is a variety of Cucurbita pepo Linnaeus, the species that includes zucchini (courgettes), crookneck and summer squash, acorn squash, pattypans, vegetable marrow (in dialects and places that distinguish that from zucchini), and some kinds of pumpkins and gourds. It is also known as vegetable spaghetti: this is the more common name in Britain. It has nothing to do with the BBC's famous spaghetti harvest hoax, whose 50th anniversary is this month. The plant is monoecious and varieties easily hybridize, while hybrids with the other species of the genus that Linnaeus identified don't occur without more work and the seeds aren't fertile. It is sometimes grouped with the vegetable marrows and other times there is a separate Vegetable Spaghetti Group. According to this article, an analysis of allozyme frequencies puts spaghetti squash and the marrows away from the rest (like the ornamental gourds). The names already get a little confusing, since spaghetti squash is one of the less common names for an Italian edible gourd, Cucuzzi, a variety of Lagenaria siceraria, the bottle gourd. Though I have seen it explained that way, I think this might be called spaghetti gourd not because it resembles spaghetti, but because it is eaten with it, or perhaps like spaghetti western. All these squashes have a tendency to get stringy: usually this is something to be avoided in breeding, but spaghetti squash deliberately aims for a pasta-like texture.

Since it is a recent introduction, most European languages follow the same sort of naming: French courge spaghetti or spaghetti végétal, Italian zucca spaghetti, German Spaghettikürbis, Spanish zapallo spaghetti, Portuguese: abóbora spaghetti, Dutch spaghettikalebas or spaghettipompoen, Russian тыква спагетти, Estonian spagetikõrvits.

The word spaghetti is the Italian plural of spaghetto, the diminutive of spago 'cord'. One of the inmates of the fourth bolgia of the eighth circle of Dante's Inferno is a cobbler turned soothsayer, of whom it says (XX 118-120):

Vedi Guido Bonatti; vedi Asdente,
ch'avere inteso al cuoio e a lo spago
ora vorrebbe, ma tardi si pente.

'See Guido Bonatti. See Asdente, who now regrets
not having worked his leather and his thread --
but he repents too late.

Spago is from Late Latin spacus 'cord', perhaps by metathesis of scapus 'shaft', or perhaps from Greek σπάω 'to draw [a sword]'.

In the 1936 fourth edition of his The American Language, H. L. Mencken, writing of foreign imports, says (p. 222):

In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, which is on every literate Englishman's desk, spaghetti is italicized as a foreign word; in America it is familiar to every child. But not many Italian load-words have got into American, probably because the great majority of Italian immigrants have been poor folk, keeping much to themselves. I can think of chianti (more generally known as dago-red), ravioli, minestrone, mafia and black-hand (from mano negra), and that is about all. Even the argot of roguery had been but little enriched by Italian words, though there have been many eminent Italian gunmen.

The 1921 second edition, which is online, has a mention of spaghetti and chianti, but none of the rest. So far as I know, no one refers to chianti like that any more, but the images of Don Corleone and Tony Soprano follow a continuous lineage back to Mencken's day.

Even still, it's hard not to be reminded of the scene in A Night at the Opera, from the year before (1935), with the steerage passengers eating enormous plates of spaghetti while singing Santa Lucia. The clips are usually on YouTube, but get yanked by Warner Brothers as fast as they get reposted, so it's impossible to have a durable link. The script also gives Groucho a couple of classic spaghetti gags:

Driftwood: All right, we'll talk business. You see that man eating spaghetti?

Claypool: No.

Driftwood: You see the spaghetti, don't you? Behind that spaghetti is none other than Herman Gottlieb, director of the New York Opera Company. Do you follow me?

Claypool: Yes.

Driftwood: Well stop following me, or I'll have you arrested!


Tonight marks the American debut of Rodolfo Lassparri.
Signor Lassparri comes from a very famous family.
His mother was a well-known bass singer.
His father was the first man to stuff spaghetti with bicarbonate of soda,
thus causing and curing indigestion at the same time.

Squash is one of the Three Sisters, with corn (maize) and beans, of Native American agriculture. The word squash is from askútasquash, in Massachusett, Narragansett, and the related Algonquian languages of New England. It means 'things that are eaten raw'. According to Trumbull, asq means 'raw' or 'green' and -ash is a plural indicator. (Following Cotton; see Trumbull's later Dictionary. In a comment, KCinDC points out that the proposed etymology for Eskimo 'eater of raw flesh' is from Abnaki askimo or Ojibwa ashkimeq, from Proto-Algonquian *ašk- 'raw' + *-po 'eat'. See this JSTOR article, this LL post, this LH post and the FAQ it points to for various perspectives in the dispute.)

The word occurs in several 17th century books. William Wood's 1634 book, New England's Prospect (also reprinted), contains the earliest vocabulary of Massachusett. For instance, it records how to count to twenty (here in EEBO): a quit, nees, nis, yoaw, abbona, ocqinta, enotta, sonaske, assaquoquin, piocke, appona qiut, apponees, apponis, appoyoaw, apponabonna, apponaquinta, apponenotta, apponsonaske, apponasquoquin, neenisshicke. It says (p. 67):

In Summer, when their corne is ſpent, iſqouterſquashes is their beſt bread; a fruite like a Pumpion.

Roger Williams' 1643 book, A Key into the Language of America (again reprinted), has (p. 103):

Askútaſquaſh, their Vine aples, which the Engliſh from them call Squaſhes about the bigneſſe of Apples of ſeverall colours, a ſweet, light wholeſome refreſhing.

John Josselyn's 1672 book, New-Englands Rarities Discovered (reprints harder to find, but there is one in Google Books) says (p. 57):

Squaſhes, but more truly Squonterſquashes, a kind of Mellon, or rather Gourd, for they oftentimes degenerate into Gourds;

Here is the Vulgate verse of the Israelites' complaint, which I cited in the garlic post:

recordamur piscium quos comedebamus in Ægypto gratis: in mentem nobis veniunt cucumeres, et pepones, porrique, et cæpe, et allia.

We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free cost: the cucumbers come into our mind, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. (tr. Douay-Rheims)

John Eliot produced a Massachusett Bible translation in 1663. Strangely, there do not seem to be facsimiles of this online or in print. There is a transcription online. Note that the files there are written in cp437, which most browsers do not support. I used iconv under MinGW to convert them to UTF. I also follow that site in using for Eliot's double-o. And the 1666 grammar has a reprint. He uses askútasquash for cucumeres:

Nummehquánumômun namohsog neg m∞whakutcheg ut Egypt, wutche monteag ask∞tasquash, kah monask∞tasquash, kah leeksash, kah weenuwasog, kah garlick.

Interestingly, Wycliffe's Middle English Bible uses gourd for cucumeres (here are early and late translations side-by-side):

We recorden of the fisshes that we eten in Egipte gladly; into mynde come to vs the goordis, and the peponys, and the leeke, and the vniowns, and the garlekes;

We thenken on the fischis whiche we eten in Egipt freli; gourdis, and melouns, and lekis, and oyniouns, and garlekis comen in to mynde to vs;

An anonymous (i.e., non-Ælfric) part of the Old English Hexateuch borrows cucumeres, giving it an Old English gloss eorðæpla 'earth apples' (cf. French pomme de terre and Austrian Erdapfel, which are 'potato', which is bound to be the subject of a later post), as well as pepones.

We gemunon hu fela fixa we hæfdon to gyfe on Egypta lande, & we hæfdon cucumeres, þæt sind eorðæpla, & pepones & porleac & enneleac & manega oþre þingc.

Also, the Latin text the translator was using has alia for allia, leading to 'many other things' for 'garlic'.

Here is Mencken again, on new words formed by shortening (p. 169; mostly the same in the earlier edition):

Rattler for rattlesnake, pike for turnpike, coon for raccoon, possum for opossum, cuss for customer, squash for askutasquash — these American clipped forms are already antique;

Today, the first four are regional or otherwise non-standard (standard American English spells the o in opossum, even if silent), the next looks wrong, and only squash remains to illustrate the point, which shows the risk in predicting language change. A footnote in this section refers to Otto Jespersen's 1919 work, Growth and Structure of the English Language. One of the ideas in that book is worked out in further detail in a 1928 lecture, “Monosyllabism in English”, which describes some of the factors involved and makes some comparisons to the even more dramatically monosyllabic language Chinese. Summing some of these up (p. 621 in Selected Writings):

English monosyllabism thus is seen to have sprung not from one, but from several sources.

To which there is a footnote:

It may also be mentioned as characteristic of the English tendency towards monosyllabism that the long Narragansett Indian name of a kind of gourd asquutasquash has been adopted in the short form squash.

Robert Beverley's 1705 work, The History and Present State of Virginia, (a facsimile of the second enlarged edition is in ECCO) says (p. 124 or here online):

Yet the Clypeatæ are ſometimes call'd Cymnels (as are ſome others alſo) from the Lenten Cake of that Name, which many of them very much reſemble. Squaſh, or Squanter-Squaſh, is their Name among the Northern Indians, and ſo they are call'd in New-York, and New-England.

The word cymnel for pattypan or scallop varieties is not used this far north. So it was once the subject of a LanguageHat post. Thomas Jefferson does write in his 1782 book, Notes on the State of Virginia, listing some plants found by the English there (online):

Pumpkins. Cucurbita pepo.
Cymlings. Cucurbita verrucosa.
Squashes. Cucurbita melopepo.

There are other historical names and descriptions of squash that occur earlier.

Jacques Cartier wrote a report in 1545 of his 1535-6 voyage, Brief recit, & succincte narration, de la nauigation faicte es ysles de Canada … He notes (p. 31):

Pareillemẽt ilz on grand quantité de gros melons, concombres, & courges, poix, & febues, & de toutes couleurs, non la ſorte de noſtres.

They have also great store of Muske-milions, Pompions, Gourds, Cucumbers, Peason and Beanes of every colour, yet differing from ours. (tr. Hakluyt)

Thomas Harriot's 1586 account, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (there is an inexpensive Dover reprint), says (p. 14 / 22):

Macócqwer, according to their ſeuerall forms called by vs, Pompions, Mellions, and Gourdes, becauſe they are of the like formes as thoſe kindes in England.

Samuel de Champlain's 1612 map of New France illustrates some vegetables in the lower left corner with the legend, “la forme des sitroules.” His 1613 book, Les voyages dv sievr de Champlain Xaintongeois … (facsimile online at the BNF and text within his collected works), mentions them a number of times, such as (p. 77 or here):

Ceux que nous auions enuoyés deuers eux, nous apporterent de petites citrouilles de la groſſeur du poing, que nous mangeaſmes en ſallade comme coucombres, qui ſont treſbonnes;

Those whom we had sent to them brought us some little squashes as big as the fist, which we ate as a salad, like cucumbers, and which we found very good. (tr. Otis)

The semantic space of squash, gourd and melon, based on appearance and use, which requires exceptions like ornamental squash, edible gourd or bitter melon, took some time to settle down. The etymologies are also complex and connected in ways that might not be immediately apparent. Latin cucurbita is related to Sanskrit चिर्भट cirbhaṭa 'a kind of cucumber' and चिर्भिटा cirbhiṭā 'a kind of gourd'. The English cucurbit initially only meant the gourd-shaped lower part of an alembic; the vegetable sense is much later. The Old English form, like the Old High German kurbiz, whence German Kürbis, was cyrfæt. Latin pepo 'melon' (at least in the Vulgate), is from Greek πέπων, short for πέπων σίκυος 'ripe melon', from the same source as πέσσω 'cook', which is from the same root as Latin coquere, whence English cook. Zucchini is traditionally used as a plural or collective noun, with squash (not squashes, which means more than one variety of squash, not more than one item) or piece supplying something countable when necessary, though there are a couple hundred thousand Google hits for "zucchinis," so that may be changing. It was sufficiently uncommon in the first half of the 20th century that the 1989 revision of the OED is able to get away with slipping in a line from Thomas Pynchon's 1966 The Crying of Lot 49 where Oedipa is in the Yoyodyne Cafeteria for the stockholders' meeting as an quotation. The Italian singular zucchino is the diminutive of zucca 'gourd', which might be from Latin cucutia like cucuzza and cucuzzi are. Cucutia is presumably related to cucurbita and cucumis somehow. Or zucca might be from Greek σικύα 'bottle gourd', related to σίκυος 'melon'. French courgette is the diminutive of courge, from Old French courde, from cucurbita; courde also giving English gourd. Pumpkin is a diminutive of pompion, from pepon, from the same pepo. Melon is from Latin melo, short for melopepo, from Greek μηλοπέπων 'melon', literally 'gourd-apple', from μῆλον 'apple' (the usual choice of unknown fruits and vegetables) and πέπων. It is not clear what metaphor led to marrow being applied to vegetables, but the first such use was marrowfat peas; vegetable marrow referred to avocados well into the 19th century before the squash sense took over. Simlin or cymling is from simnel, because of the resemblance to the scalloped Lenten cakes; this is from Latin simila 'flour', whence also semolina.

The earliest quotation for vegetable spaghetti from the OED is from the The Times [London], Nov. 2, 1973 (22/8):

If vegetable spaghetti is as tasteless as marrow, which I believe it is, no self-respecting British housewife would buy it at any price.

This is actually the end of a series of somewhat connected mentions in the paper that fall, starting on Aug. 31, where it is introduced as an “American vegetable” that can be ordered by post from a place that specializes in snails and frog legs; then on Sep. 7, it tells where you can order seeds to grow your own; then on Oct. 16, it tells of a Roger Whipp, who planted 12 acres but failed to see any interest in the produce as a result of “the conservatism of the British housewife”; in reply to which there is a letter on 26 Oct. complaining that in fact no greengrocers seemed interested in stocking them; and then the Nov. 2 letter quoted by the OED. All of which is not even the earliest occurrence in The Times: it gets a mention in the Jan. 23, 1971 Gardening column (18/8):

Some friends rave about “vegetable spaghetti” which is marrow-like vegetable that boil, peel off the skin and out comes a kind of spaghetti-like mass.

The earliest mention of spaghetti squash in the New York Times is Oct. 17, 1976 (p. 395):

Little Chief Farm Stands in Riverhead and Aquebogue have it, the Green Thumb in Water Mill has it, Horley's in Centerport has it, Van Sise Farms in Woodbury is trying to stock it, but at most of the other farm stands and markets about the Island, they never heard of it. “It” is spaghetti squash.

Craig Claiborne's Jan. 9, 1978 De Gustibus column is about “Vegetable Pasta” (p. A24):

It is said that most trends in food in America begin on the East Coast and go west to California. An exception is a distinct novelty that has appeared over the past three or four years at greengrocers.

It is a curious vegetable that goes by the name of a spaghetti squash; …

… the botanical name is cucurbita ficifolia …

We telephoned the produce company, the Eckel company in Salinas, Calif., and Frank Eckel told us that the squash had been developed some years ago in Japan. … [H]e predicted that it might take five to 10 years before it becomes a commonplace vegetable.

Then spaghetti squash is the answer to one of the quiz questions for that week. I will try to deal with the C. ficifolia vs. C. pepo problem in a bit. It is hard to tell from the grainy scan of the black and white photo, but it might be the latter; the previous mention above definitely was.

By the following year, in a Feb. 25, 1979 piece titled “Dubious Delicacies for the Vegetable Patch” (p. D44), it is already, “… the well known Spaghetti Squash …” Again Claiborne, in a Jan. 21, 1981 column bemoaning the lack of an OED equivalent for food (the 2000 Cambridge History I mentioned above may come close) and reviewing some contenders from back then, says (p. C3), “… there is no mention of spaghetti squash, which abounds in American markets today.”

Google Books offers similar hints. From Historical Geography of Crop Plants: A Select Roster, 1993, by Jonathan Deininger Sauer (p. 48):

A new zucchini cultivar developed in the Far East is known as vegetable spaghetti. In the 1980s, it has become popular in North America.

From Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook, 1991, by Joy Larkcom (p. 81):

Vegetable spaghetti is probably Chinese in origin. It is widely grown in China, and in recent years has become very popular in the West.

Attempting to use Google Books' date ranges to find earlier mentions is a complete failure. For instance, a search for the first half of the century is nothing but false hits. Even though they are all snippet views, by searching for "superintendent of documents" or "copyright", it is clear that these publications are much later. The particularly promising 1923 mention of an AAS Vegetable Award winning vegetable spaghetti squash “Trivoli” F1 turns out to be really be called “Tivoli” and to be the winner from 1991.

A Produce Reference Guide to Fruits and Vegetables from Around the World: Nature's Harvest, 1997, by Donald D. Heaton credits (p. 207) Frieda Caplan of Frieda's Finest with leading the introduction to America. This claim also appears in the Inc. Magazine profile and a 2006 company press release, which dates that introduction to 1975.

A Frieda's first that might hold up to scrutiny is giving the name kiwi to kiwifruit in the 1960s. When introduced to New Zealand, it was known as Chinese gooseberry. In Chinese, it is traditionally known as 獼猴桃 mi2hou2tao2 'macaque monkey peach', though there is a new name 奇異果 qi2yi4 guo3 'strange fruit' because it sounds like kiwi. Oddly enough, Chinese gooseberry was also a name for carambola or star fruit, which is 楊桃 yang2tao2 'poplar peach'. In Thai 'starfruit' is มะเฟือง má-feuang and 'kiwi' is just กีวี gee-wee — they are on a bilingual fruit poster for Thai schoolchildren that we have in our larder. In addition to giving some regional branding, kiwi fruit probably helped to clear up the confusion. A dissenter to Frieda's priority is Exotic Fruits and Vegetables by Jane Grigson, which says (p. 18) that the first shipment abroad to London in 1953 already had the new name. The earliest quotation given by the OED is from the New York Times Aug. 13, 1966 (p. 30):

Chinese gooseberries, also known as kiwi fruit, are in metropolitan markets for the third season in increased quantities.

Since spaghetti squash was first introduced by farm stands and home growers, another source of information is heirloom seed catalogs.

  • Nichols Garden Nursery: “Introduced by Sakata Seed Company in 1934.”
  • Fedco Seeds: “First commercialized by Sakata in Japan in 1934 and brought to the States by Burpee two years later.”
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: “This is the popular squash with stringy flesh that is used like spaghetti. Introduced by Sakata Seed Co. of Japan, in 1934. May have originated in China.”
  • Agrestal: “This is another interesting variety developed by Prof. E. M. Meader at the University of New Hampshire.”
  • Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables: “1890s.”
  • The Cottage Gardener: “1890’s.”
  • Skyfire Garden Seeds: “From Manchuria in 1890.”
  • Revolution Seeds: “As near as I can tell this was the original spaghetti squash, originating in Manchuria in 1890 and coming to the notice of American growers through its introduction in Japan in 1934.

A quick check on eBay finds a copy of the 1942 Burpee catalog for not too much. And indeed, there it is (p. 151):

Pick a well-ripened squash and cook it whole, without cutting or skinning, for 20 minutes in boiling water. Take it out of the pot, cut open, and you will find a mass of spaghetti-like pulp which is very tasty when seasoned.

I assumed the 1936 catalog would have a larger introductory blurb. But after finally tracking down a copy, it's actually smaller (p. 128) and lacks the artwork.

Another source of information is smaller circulation publications, such as in, to which one of the local libraries offers access. There are, of course, some false hits from display ads when spaghetti and squash occur near one another. Here are some interesting results:

Nov. 23, 1936. Fresno, Calif. The Fresno Bee. p. 3-D:

Kerman Flower Show

C. H. Wootten, first on squash and spaghetti squash;

Aug. 4, 1942. Frederick, Md. The News. p. 2:

Vegetable Spaghetti Is Tried In County

In these days of substitutes and synthetics it is not surprising that truck growers have something new to offer, too. One of the unusual vegetables which has been tried in a few local gardens it vegetable spaghetti. Roger H. Geisbert, of near Urbana, brought to The News-Post office a one specimen of this unusual type of squash. It was shaped somewhat like a watermelon and was creamy white in color. It was a foot in length and weighed seven pounds.

To prepare for the table, you boil the whole squash for about 30 minutes and then cut open, remove the center core and season with salt and butter the flesh that appears as tightly wound spaghetti-like threads or strings.

A member of The News-Post staff has some of the vines in his “Victory” garden and he was disappointed that some of the early pickings did not show up any spaghetti after cooking. But according to Mr. Geisbert's experience the vegetable spaghetti was not left on the vine long enough to fully mature. However, the early plucked fruits cooked up like cymlings and were very tasty.

As a matter of fact, vegetable spaghetti must be a variety of summer squash, a newly developed vine of the genus Cucurbita, which is the gourd or cucumber family.

May 18, 1944. Reno, Nev. Nevada State Journal. p. 6:

Squash Gives Garden Variety

Vegetable spaghetti is a curiosity of the vegetable world, yet one having real value. The vining plants are vigorous and set fruits just as do other squashes. This squash, or vegetable spaghetti, is a cream white in color and grows from eight to 10 inches long and four to five inches in diameter. It is a “good keeper” and can be stored for over-winter use.

Vegetable spaghetti is prepared by picking a well-ripened squash and boiling it whole for 30 minutes. Then cut it open, remove the center core, season the mass of spaghetti-like pulp with salt, pepper and butter and replace in the oven just long enough for the “spaghetti” to brown.

The Butternut squash is a new type of squash producing a fruit aobut [sic] 12 inches long.

Aug. 29, 1944. Portsmouth, N.H. The Portsmouth, N.H., Herald. p. 2:

A benefit flower show and fair held by the Eliot Garden club last week in the South Eliot Methodist church and vestry enables the club to spend nearly $100 for their war time activities.

In the vegetable class firsts were awarded to Mrs. Marston for beets and onions; Miss Elsie Catlin for carrots and beets; Mrs. John McPherson for Boston summer squash; Mrs. Toennesen for summer squash, green squash and carrots; Mrs. Leroy Littlefield for spaghetti squash; and Mrs. Frank Murphy for vegetable sugar cane.

Sept. 2, 1966. Walla Walla, Wash. Union-Bulletin. p. 16:

4-H Gardening

Green lima beans, pimento peppers, spaghetti squash, okra—Gay Shollenberter.

Sept. 20, 1968. Sheboygan, Wisc. Sheboygan Press. p. 16:

Vegetable spaghetti is another Oriental development not widely known in this area.

Nov. 12, 1971. San Mateo, Calif. The Times. p. 9:

Giant Squash Is Times' Plant [of the Week]

This year we grew a new novelty squash originated by Sakata of Japan, called “Spaghetti Squash.” The seed came with the directions for cooking on the package, the vine clambered over everything else we had in the bed. The fruits were like a banana squash but not as long and the average weight of each squash was 5 pounds. The color, when ripe, also resembled the banana squash but there the similarity ended. The directions called for cooking the squash whole for 20 minutes. We found that many more minutes were needed before it was tender enough to pierce with a fork. When tender it was cut open, the seeds removed and the flesh scraped out. This edible portion fell out like drained spaghetti. We enjoyed it with butter, salt and pepper. Seeds of this squash will be in the seed racks next spring.

It is interesting that a show is already featuring a spaghetti squash prize the first year that Burpee introduced the Sakata seed. I suppose it might be that the company sponsored or otherwise promoted it in that way. Or perhaps that indicates an alternate source already in 1936.

In Japanese, spaghetti squash is 金糸瓜 kinshi uri 'gold thread melon' or 素麺南瓜 sōmen kabocha just like in European languages, though I don't think it is usually prepared in imitation of noodles. The Sakata company was founded in 1913 by Takeo Sakata (坂田武雄). Its web site does not mention spaghetti squash except in a list of winning varieties from its research efforts (Japanese English), which includes the 1991 AAS winner Tivoli referred to above.

In Chinese, spaghetti squash is 魚翅瓜 yu2 chi4 gua1 (also transliterated yee chee kuah) 'shark fin melon'. It is prepared in a soup somewhat like a veggie shark fin soup. It is also known as 金丝瓜 jin1 si1 gua1 'gold thread melon', like in Japan; or 麵條瓜 mian4 tiao2 gua1 'spaghetti squash'. I believe spaghetti is commonly known as 意粉 yi4 fen3 'Italian pasta' in Mandarin and 意面 yi3 min6 'Italian noodles' in Cantonese.

魚翅瓜 yu2 chi4 gua1 is also the name of Cucurbita ficifolia or chilacayote (from the Nahuatl tzilacayohtli 'smooth gourd'), which can be prepared similarly in soup. This is the botanical name Claiborne gave above, though I am uncertain from the photo whether that is what he really had — with a less artistic angle, darker, rounder and spotted would be clear. In South America, it is typically used to make jam. But there are a few places that give Spanish alcayota or Portuguese gila or chila (from chila-caiota) as translations for 'spaghetti squash'. This abstract is of an article that says that it was common in China in 1854 as fodder. Although it was introduced to Europe as courge de siam, I cannot find a Thai name for it in lists of agricultural products.

I have not been able to locate any further sources on its history in China. What I am able to find is about its economics or how to prepare soup or other dishes. There is even a journal 中国瓜菜 China Cucurbits and Vegetables, but I do not see any historical abstracts. A snippet of a much older abstract, 4982. Practical horticulture. (Translated from the Japanese by CHANG, C. C.) Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce Republic of China (in Chinese) 118: 1-14; 119: 1-8. 1925. promises a list of Chinese and Japanese squash synonyms from the early 20th century, but I do not have much chance of finding that journal.

Noodles are an important, while not fundamental, part of Chinese cuisine. The oldest noodles in the world were recently discovered by archeologists in China. Macaroni, in the sense of dried pasta made from durum wheat, was probably invented by the Arabs. It is still possible to find places on the web where someone believes that Marco Polo brought back macaroni from China (or even that he brought it to China), though it seems there are an even greater number of sites devoted to debunking this myth. Marco Polo's Travels was one of the most popular works before printing. It was almost immediately translated into many languages, so though the original dictation to Rustichello does not survive, there are a fair number of early manuscripts. An early printed version is in Giovanni Battista Ramusio's work, Navigationi et Viaggi (online here); it includes portions that are not found elsewhere. The earliest manuscript is BNF MS Tr. 1116, titled Le divisament dou monde; it is written in a language that Luigi Foscolo Benedetto describes as, “il francese fortemente mescidato di vocaboli e di forme italiane” 'French strongly mixed with Italian vocabulary and forms'. As far as I can tell, it is not online as text or facsimile. But there is a fairly recent volume in most libraries containing it together with an early Tuscan version, titled Il Milione. This latter text (or something close) is also online here, here and here. A clear statement of what Marco Polo found of Chinese pasta is from Ramusio:

Non usano pane queste genti, ma solamente cuocono queste tre sorti di biade col latte, overo carni, e mangiano quelle; e il frumento appresso di loro non moltiplica cosí, ma quello che ricogliono mangiano solamente in lasagne e altre vivande di pasta. (Lib. 2 Cap. 20.)

Those nations use no bread, but only boil those kinds of grain with milk or meat for their victual. Their wheat, indeed, does not render so much, but this they use only to make vermicelli [sic], and pastes of that description. (tr. Yule)

On the other hand, Marco Polo did encounter a new food, a vegetable substitute for flour, and so somewhat related to this post, namely sago.

Il ne ont forment, ne autre bles; mes menuient ris et lat; il ont vin des arbres, de celz que je voç contai desovre. E si voç di un autre couse que bien fait a conter por mervoille: sachiés que en ceste provence ont farine d'arbres, e voç dirai comant il ont. Sachiés que il ont une mainere d'arbres que mout sont groses e grant, e cesti arbres sunt tuit plein dedens de farine: que sachiés que cesti arbres ont mout soutil escorces e tuit dedens est farine. Et ne font meint me[n]gier de paste que mout sunt buen a mangier, car je voç di que nos meesme les provanmes aseç, car nos en menuiames plusors foies. (Div. CLXX)

No ànno grano, ma manucano riso; vino ànno degli àlbori ch'abiamo detto di sopra. Qui à una grande maraviglia, che ci àn farina d'àlbori, che sono àlbori grossi e ànno la buccia sottile, e sono tutti pieni dentro di farina; e di quella farin[a] si fa molti mangiar di pasta e buoni, ed io più volte ne mangiai. (Mil. 166)

The people have no wheat, but have rice which they eat with milk and flesh. They also have wine from trees such as I told you of. And I will tell you another great marvel. They have a kind of trees that produce flour, and excellent flour it is for food. These trees are very tall and thick, but have a very thin bark, and inside the bark they are crammed with flour. And I tell you that Messer Marco Polo, who witnessed all this, related how he and his party did sundry times partake of this flour made into bread, and found it excellent. (tr. Yule)

With just a little searching, versions of this text can be found online in 16th century French here and here; manuscript 14th century French; more modern French; Latin and Czech; different English; and somewhat different 13th century Italian. Ramusio adds a more detailed description of how the flour is made, concluding:

… e la farina purgata e mondata che rimane s'adopra, e si fanno di quella lasagne e diverse vivande di pasta, … (Lib. 3 Cap. 16.)

… and the cleaned flour that remains is taken and made into pasta in strips and other forms.  (tr. Yule)

The book Manchuria: Its People, Resources and Recent History by Alexander Hosie, from 1904, mentions squash (p. 196):

They likewise include many forms and varieties of the Cucurbitaceæ melon, pumpkin, squash, vegetable marrow, cucumber and gourd—of which the following are the native names: Hsiang Kua, Wo Kua, Tung Kua (Benincasa cerifera, Savi), Ssŭ Kua (Luffa petola, Ser.), Huang Kua (Cucumis sativa, L.), Hsi Kua, Yü Kua, Lai Kua, Sao Kua, Sai Kua, Hu tzŭ and Hu lu (gourd—Langenaria [sic] vulgaris, Ser.).

I guess these are 香瓜 xiang1gua1 'muskmelon', 倭瓜 wo1gua1 'some kind of melon', 冬瓜 dong1gua1 'wax gourd', 絲瓜 si1gua1 'loofah', 黃瓜 huang2gua1 'cucumber', 西瓜 xi1gua1 'watermelon', 玉瓜 yu4gua1 'jade melon', 癩瓜 lai4gua1 'bitter melon', 騷瓜 sao1gua1 ?, 菜瓜 cai4gua1 'cucumber', 葫子hu2zi0 / 葫蘆 hu2lu2 'bottle gourd'.

In his book China and the Chinese, Herbert Allen Giles (of Wade-Giles) proposes what seem to me like unlikely etymologies (p. 134 or online):

Similarly, the Chinese word for “radish,” 蘿蔔 lo po [mentioned in an earlier post], also of foreign origin, is no doubt a corruption of ῥάφη, it being of course well known that the Chinese cannot pronounce an initial r.

There is one term, especially, in Chinese which at once carries conviction as to its Greek origin. This is the term for watermelon. The two Chinese characters chosen to represent the sound mean “Western gourd,” i.e. the gourd which came from the West. Some Chinese say, on no authority in particular, that it was introduced by the Kitan Tartars; others say that it was introduced by the first Emperor of the so-called Golden Tartars. But the Chinese term is still pronounced si kua [西瓜], which is absolutely identical with the Greek word σικύα, of which Liddell and Scott say, “perhaps the melon.” For these three words it would now scarcely be rash to substitute “the watermelon.”

He is quoting the smaller Liddell Scott; the larger says, “bottle-gourd, Lagenaria vulgaris.”

The orangetti variety of spaghetti squash was developed at the Newe Ya’ar Experiment Station in Israel in 1986 by Harry S. Paris. It is included in this study with other varieties. Paris is the author of a couple papers on spaghetti squash botany and of the even more interesting 1989 paper, “Historical Records, Origins and Developments of the Edible Cultivar Groups of Cucurbita pepo (Cucurbitaceae).” Economic Botany, 43(4): 423-443., for which a PDF reprint is quite reasonably priced at $7. The paper is in some ways an update to Sturtevant's entry from seventy years before. As to spaghetti squash, he says (p. 439-440):

Some additional developments in C. pepo will probably result from unpredictable, and seemingly capricious, consumer desires. A case in point is the ‘Vegetable Spaghetti’ cultivar, a member of the vegetable marrow group. This unusual cultivar has been in commerce in North America since 1936, when it was introduced by the Burpee Seed Co., and it probably originated in the Far East (T. C. Torrey, pers. comm.). It suddenly gained a surge of popularity in North America around 1980. For 1986, a hybrid cultivar developed in Israel from ‘Vegetable Spaghetti’ was released (Paris et al. 1985). This new cultivar, named ‘Orangetti’, has semi-bush habit, intense orange fruit rind and flesh color, and a 15-fold increase in the carotene content of the flesh. Should this cultivar become popular, others like it can be expected to be developed.

The correspondent mentioned is Theodore Torrey, Burpee's director of vegtable research.

The variety they had at Whole Foods the other day, which we had with a mushroom sauce, was from Monty Farms, S.A., La Paz, Honduras. It does not seem to be any particular named hybrid and is just identified by its PLU #4776.

A little digging around in used bookstores turns up this, The Vegetable Spaghetti Cookbook, Feb. 1982, by Derek Fell, who was executive director of AAS seed trials in 1974 when he met Takeo Sakata and was responsible for introducing Sakata's award-wining seed varieties to America. It says (p. 7):

Mr. Sakata and his staff of plant breeders have found China to be a rich source of new vegetables, and after finding Vegetable Spaghetti there decided to produce an improved strain in commercial quantities and offer it worldwide through their wholesale seed division in 1934.

At first the new vegetable was ignored and although a few seed companies in the USA tested it, none found it sufficiently exciting to offer it to home gardeners. Mr. Sakata was bewildered by the lack of interest, and after many years of struggling to gain acceptance for it, he reintroduced it about 1960.

A progressive European seed company featured the vegetable in their mail order seed catalog about 1964 and promoted it widely through releases and advertising as a low calorie substitute for pasta spaghetti. Sales were dramatic, and several American seed houses, intrigued by the success of Vegetable Spaghetti in Europe, listed it in their own mail order seed catalogs.

According to Jane Grigson (p. 535), that 1964 seed catalog was Thompson and Morgan's.

Although there are still some problems, it is possible to piece together an outline of a timeline:

  • 7000 BCE: Cucurbita pepo remains from Oaxaxa, Mexico.
  • 3000 BCE: C. ficifolia remains from Huaca Prieta, Peru.
  • 2000 BCE: Millet noodle remains from Lajia, China.
  • Before 13th century: dried pasta from durum wheat developed by the Arabs or someone in the Mediterranean.
  • 1274: Marco Polo embarks for Asia, where he discovers that they use noodles too.
  • 1492: Columbus journeys to America, beginning dissemination of New World plants.
  • 1740: First licensed pasta factory in Italy.
  • 1789: Thomas Jefferson has his secretary William Short go to Naples to secure a “maccaroni mould,” which be brings to America. He also prepares some notes on pasta machines.
  • 1824: First industrial pasta factory in Italy.
  • 1824: C. ficifolia introduced to cultivation in Europe as C. melanosperma.
  • 1848: First pasta factory in America.
  • 1854: C. ficifolia common in China as fodder.
  • Late 19th century: shark fin melon soup.
  • 1890s: A stringy strain of C. pepo developed in Manchuria, where is may be easier to grow than C. ficifolia or something like that.
  • 1913: Sakata Seed Corp. founded.
  • Early 20th century: Italian immigrants make spaghetti an American staple.
  • 1934: Sakata breeders find Vegetable Spaghetti in China and develop it commercially.
  • 1936: Burpee introduces Vegetable Spaghetti in the USA.
  • World War II: wartime disruptions make a home-grown substitute for spaghetti desirable.
  • 1950s: Post-war prosperity and the Marshall Plan balance with Europe return real spaghetti.
  • 1960s: Sakata reintroduces Vegetable Spaghetti.
  • 1962: Frieda's Finest founded.
  • 1964: Thompson and Morgan seed catalog features Vegetable Spaghetti.
  • 1970s: Mainstream integration of counterculture creates demand for new fruits and vegetables.
  • 1975: Frieda's begins promoting Spaghetti Squash.
  • 1986: Orangetti variety developed in Israel.
  • 1991: Sakata Tivoli variety wins AAS award.
  • 1990s: Globalization and transportation revolution make squash readily available throughout North America all year round.
  • 1995: Hasta La Pasta introduced by Burpee / Seedway.
  • 1999: Hi-beta Gold developed by Jim Waltrip / Seminis Garden.
  • 2001: Small Wonder (single serving size) developed by Hollar Seeds.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Chili, Part I

Most of the posts here to date have been concerned with Old World vegetables. So it seems time for one of the New World edible Solanaceæ. Since they has been mentioned several times before, it will be chilies.

The earliest quote in the OED for chilli is, “1662 H. Stubbe Ind. Nectar [The Indian nectar, or a discourse concerning chocolata] ii. 10 Some Pepper called Chille…was put in.” Hot food fans may find something unsatisfying about the first association being hot – cocoa. But mainly, isn't 1662 awfully late?

Read More

Better start at the beginning. As every child knows,

In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue

Christopher Columbus (aka Cristóbal Colón) was looking for spices, in particular for pepper. English still calls what he found (which had been grown there for millenia) hot peppers, or chili peppers, or cayenne pepper, or just peppers. By far the best natural history of these food plants is Jean Andrews' Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums. (This post will inevitably follow a similar track, in summary form, with a few diversions and a bit more attention to original texts.)

The word pepper is from Latin piper 'black pepper', whence French poivre, borrowed into various Germanic languages, such as German Pfeffer, Old English pipor, Old Norse piparr, itself from some Indo-Iranian source like Sanskrit पिप्पली pippalī 'long pepper', somehow related to पिप्पल pipala 'peepal (Ficus religiosa)'; it is also borrowed into Greek as πέπερι, whence Hungarian paprika. The same source gives Persian then Arabic فلفل filfil 'pepper', plural فلافل falāfel. Spanish pimienta, Portuguese pimenta and English pimento are from Latin pigmentum 'painted; spice', with these words sometimes also meaning 'allspice'. French has both poivre and piment, but still does not separate the space the same way botanists do.

A note on the quotes that follow: Orthography at this time was a free for all. I have not modernized the spelling or otherwise attempted to make it uniform. In cases where the source has a transcription, I have tended to follow it. I have expanded some shortcuts, like the mark for final m's, but left other contractions. I have kept the long s's, particularly in English, since they give an old fashioned feel. Typefaces and punctuation are also irregular by modern standards, and I have kept some of this without going overboard. To get Fraktur display, use this font. The end result is indeed not consistent, and while this may not be inevitable, it is intentional.

Columbus wrote a letter back to Spain on 15 Febrary 1493, written in Spanish and translated several times into Latin for various recipients. Scans of facsimile editions of these letters are fairly widespread; the Internet Archive has the Spanish (p. 19 of the PDF line 19) and a different Latin translation (p. 19 of the PDF, 5 lines up from the bottom). He said:

En estas islas donde ay montañas grandes, ahi tenia fuerça el frio este ynvierno ; mas ellos lo sufren por la costumbre con la ayuda de las viandas que comen con especias muchas y muy calientes en demasia.
In those islands, where there are lofty mountains, the cold was very keen there this winter; but they endure it by being accustomed thereto, and by the help of the meats which they eat with many and inordinately hot spices.
Ex montium acuminibus maximum quoque viget frigus, sed id quidem moderantur Indi tum loci consuetudine, tum rerum calidissimarum, quibus frequenter et luxuriose vescuntur, presidio.

Diego Alvarez Chanca accompanied Columbus on his second voyage and wrote back a letter in January 1494. So he gets credit for the first European written record of chilies that was read generally. The modernized(?) text is online. He says:

El mantenimiento suyo es pan hecho de raices de una yerba que es entre árbol é yerba, é el age, de que ya tengo dicho que es muy buen mantenimiento : tienen por especia, por lo adobar, una especia que se llama Agí con la cual comen también el pescado, como aves cuando las pueden haber, que hay infinitas de muchas maneras.
Their food consists of bread, made of the roots of a vegetable which is between a tree and a vegetable, and the age, which I have already described as being like the turnip, and very good food; they use, to season it, a spice called agi, which they also eat with fish, and such birds as they can catch of the many kinds which abound in the island. (tr. R. H. Major)

Columbus also kept a journal of his first voyage to show to Ferdinand and Isabella when he returned. None of the manuscript copies survive. But Bartolomé de Las Casas made an abstract, which was found by Martín Fernández de Navarrete in 1790 and published in 1825 in the first volume of a five volume collection. For some reason, the Internet Archive only has scans of the fourth and fifth volumes. But there is a digital edition of just the Diarios de Colón. The entry for 15 Jan 1493 says (p. 45 of the PDF):

También ay mucho axí, qu'es su pimienta, d'ella que vale más que pimienta y toda la gente no come sin ella, que la halla muy sana, puédense cargar cincuenta caravelas cada año en aquella Española.
Also there is much axí, which is their pepper, much stronger than [our] pepper, and everyone won't eat without it, for they find it very healthful; it would be possible to fill fifty caravels each year in Hispaniola.

Peter Martyr also wrote a letter concerning the first voyage, but it was not published until 1511 as the first of ten books known as a Decade. Like Columbus' letter, it only mentions spice generally. Three decades were assembled into De Orbe Novo, published in 1516. In 1523, he added a fifth decade. All eight decades were published in 1530. I have not been able to find this text online anywhere, including CLCLT. They have a copy of a facsimile in the BPL, which is where this comes from. (Since the book was acquired before 1974, it's one of the millions of items that aren't in any electronic catalog. One has to first ask someone to look up the call number and then copy that onto a call slip.) The expanded description of chilies from Decade 5, Book IX has:

De pipere inſulari continentique nunc parum. Nemora fructibus fulta piper gignentibus habent; dico piper quamquam non ſit piper, quia piperis habeat vim & aroma, nec pipere vilius granum illud, vocant ipſi haxi vltima acuta, papaueris ſupat altitudinem. Colligunt ex illis grana vti ex iunipo aut ſapina, non ita grandia penitus; duæ ſunt illius grani ſpens, quoque aiunt alii; ſeſquidigito humano longum eſt vnum, pipe mordentius & acutius, rotundum aliud non maius pipe. Sed hoc pellicula, carniculis, & animulis conſtat, quem tria calidam habent acrimoniam. Eſt tertium non acre aromaticum tamen, quo ſi vteremur, Caucaſeo piper non indigeremus, dulce appelant boniatum, acre nuncupant caribe, quia aſperum & forte, inde Caribes appellant Canibales, quia fortes illos & acres eſſe fateantur.
Something may be said about the pepper gathered in the islands and on the continent. I mentioned pepper as growing in the forests; but it is not pepper, though it has the same strength and the flavour, and is just as much esteemed. The natives call it axi. It grows taller than a poppy, and the grains are gathered from this bush just as from a juniper or pine, although they are not so large. There are two varieties of these grains, five in the row; one of which is half a finger in length, and its taste is sharper and more biting than that of pepper; the other is round and has no more taste than pepper. Its bark, skin, and kernel have a hot flavour; but not very sharp. The third grain does not sting the tongue but is aromatic. When it is used there is no need of Caucasian pepper. The sweet pepper is called boniatum and the hot pepper is called carribe, meaning sharp and strong; for this same reason the cannibals are called Caribs, because they are strong. (tr. MacNutt)

Las Casas assembled a Historia de las Indias from 1520 to 1561; this was his reason for abstracting Columbus' journal. Though the manuscript was regularly consulted, it was only finally published in 1875. It says, (p. 412; again, the Internet Archive has another facsimile):

Esto llevó por muestra á los Reyes, no supe si salió ser ruibarbo, ó si Vicente Yañez se engañó: Tuvo el Almirante por buena especería la pimienta desta isla que llaman axí, diciendo ser mejor que la pimienta y manegueta que se traia de Guinea ó de Alejandría (y, cierto, ella es buena, como despues se dirá), por la cual imaginaba que debia de haber otras especies della.
He took some to show to Their Majesties, I did not know whether it was rhubarb, or Vicente Yañez was mistaken: the Admiral had as a good spice the pepper of this island which is called aji, said to be better than pepper or manegueta which comes from Guinea or Alexandria (and, for sure, it was good, as will be said later), for which he imagined that there would have to be other kinds of it.

The Taíno word ají is still used in some American dialects of Spanish for some kinds of chilies. It is also evident that the Spanish were not confused about whether chilies were really pepper, as North and South America schoolchildren sometimes learn.

Bernardino de Sahagún compiled the twelve books of the Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, in Nahuatl, in 1569, to which Spanish translations were then added; it is known as the Florentine Codex. There is an English translation, retaining the Nahuatl, with facsimiles of many of the pages. There is also a shorter version with only the Spanish. In Book 10, in describing various professions, in both typical and bad form, it says (Chap. 18, pp. 67-68 of the translation):

Chilnamacac, aço colitli, mjlchiuhquj, anoço tlanecujlo, qujnamaca in texochilli in chilpatlaoac, in chilacatl, in chilcoztli, in cujtlachilli, in tenpilchilli, in chichioachilli: qujnamaca, in achilli, in cõchilli, qujnamaca in pucheoac, in chiltecpin, in quauhchilli, in pitzaoac chilli, in temoltic, quinamaca in totocuitlatl chilli, in tzinquauhio, in tzincoionqui, quinamaca in chilchotl, in milchilli, in tonalchilli, in atzitzioa, in tochmilcaiutl, in oaxtepecaiutl, in michoacaiutl, in anaoacaiutl, in cuextecaiutl, in chichimecaiutl, nõqua quinamaca, in chilçolotl, in chilpaoaxtli, in chilmichi, in chilamilotl.
In tlaueliloc chilnamacac: in quinamaca chilli xôiac, tetelquic, chipaoac, chilpalaxtli, chilcuitlatl, tlacpatl, chiltzontli, quinamaca chilli in âtlalticpa, in acococ, in acamatetelquic, in oc quilitl, in aia chicaoa, in amâci, in chipini in tomoliui.
The chili seller [is] either … a worker of the fields, or a retailer. He sells mild red chilis, broad chilis, hot green chilis, yellow chilis, cuitlachilli, tenpilchilli, chichioachilli. He sells water chilis, conchilli; he sells smoked chilis, small chilis, tree chilis, thin chilis, those like beetles. He sells hot chilis, the early variety, the hollow-based kind. He sells green chilis, shart-pointed red chilis, a late variety, those from Atzitziuacan, Tochmilco, Huaxtepec, Michoacan, Anauac, the Huaxteca, the Chichimeca. Separately he sells strings of chilis, chilis cooked in an olla, fish chilis, white fish chilis.
The bad chili seller sells chili [which is] stinking, sharp to the taste, evil-smelling, spoiled; waste from the chilis, late-formed chilis, chaff from the chilis. He sells chilis from wet country, incapable of burning, insipid to the taste; unformed, not yet firm, immature; those which have formed as droplets, as buds.

The bibliographical history of Francisco Hernández' work on New World plants is so complicated that an entire page of a modern study, The Mexican Treasury, is taken up by a flow-chart of translations and publications. The original manuscript is in Latin. A revised version was given to Philip II and housed in the Escorial. A copy was made from that there, from which a Spanish translation was prepared and published in 1615. (Also online.) An Latin translation of the Spanish was prepared in 1555 and published in 1633. The revised manuscripts were destroyed in the fire of 1671. The original Latin manuscripts (lacking the revisions) were published in his Opera in 1790. So, from there, De Historia Plantarum Novae Hispaniae 3.cliii (p. 277):

Chilli seu Piper Mexicanum planta est ferens siliquas illas, quae ab Haitinis Agies, ab antiquis, ut quidam volunt, Siliquastra, et ab Hispanis Piper Indicum vocantur, quae licet jamdiu in nostrum orbem translata sit, ibique et in hortis et in vasis ficitilibus ornamenti et usus gratia seratur et habeatur in deliciis; tamen quoniam apud Indios multo plura eorum genera reperiuntur, et orexi excitandae, commendandisque ferculis in usu quotidiano est, adeo ut nullam sit reperire mensam sine Chilli, …
Chili, or Mexican pepper, is the plant that produces those pods that the Haitians call ajies and that were known, according to some, by the ancients as peppers. The Spanish call them peppers of the Indies. It was taken a long time ago to Spain, where it is highly esteemed and where it is cultivated in gardens and tubs as an ornamental and as a useful plant. However, since there are many varieties among the Indians and it is used every day as an appetizer and as a condiment, scarcely a table is without it … (tr. Varey)
He goes on to describe particular varieties:

1quauhchilliChilli arboris 'tree chili'Haitians: Chilli montanum 'chili of the woods'
a culicibus 'after the mosquito'
passerinum stercus 'sparrow dung'
Haitians: huarahuao
.2tlilchilliChilli nigrum 'black chili' 
3tonalchillia sole 'after the sun'Haitians: Chilli album 'white chili'
4chicoztlia colore, quo tingit, croceo 'after the saffron color it gives'Spaniards in Haiti: Agi crocus 'saffron chili'
5tzinquauhyomontanum 'of the woods'Haitians: Corallum 'coral'
6texochilliMasseum a mollitudine 'dough, due to its softness'cum Tlaolli seu placentis ex Indico Frumento paratis mandi
eaten with tortillas, that is, flat cakes made from Indian grain
7milchilliquod quo tempore Tlaolli et seritur et metitur 'because it is sown and reaped at the same time as corn' 

From these inventories of Nahuatl words for various chili varieties, chiltecpin is the only one that is I recognize as used in supermarket English to describe small peppers. These are also known as piquin peppers. The word piquin evidently comes from pequeño 'small'. But Dave DeWitt's page suggests that it might just come from chiltecpin, though it isn't clear to me how. These are a key ingredient in hot sauces like Cholula (the one with the recognizable wooden stopper) and even more so Terra Sol's Piquin. Perhaps they are the inspiration for “chili pepperinos” in The Three Stooges' Playing the Ponies, which make smoke come out of one's mouth, and which Curly confuses with peanuts and feeds to the washed up horse Thunderbolt, who then wins the big race trying to get some water.

José de Acosta's book Historia natural y moral de las Indias : en que se tratan las cosas notables del cielo, y elementos, metales, plantas, y animales dellas : y los ritos, y ceremonias, leyes, y gouierno, y guerras de los Indios, written in 1590 and quickly translated into many other languages, says (Vol. I Chap. XX / p.370 with minor differences in the two editions):

Del ají o pimienta de las Indias
En las Indias occidentales no se ha topado especería propia, como pimienta, clavo, canela, nuez, jengibre. Aunque un hermano nuestro, que peregrinó por diversas y muchas partes, contaba que en unos desiertos de la isla de Jamaica había topado unos árboles que daban pimienta, pero no se sabe que lo sean ni hay contratación de ella. El jengibre se trajo de la India a la Española, y ha multiplicado de suerte que ya no saben qué hacerse de tanto jengibre, porque en la flota del año de ochenta y siete se trajeron veinte y dos mil cincuenta y tres quintales de ello a Sevilla.
Pero la natural especería que dió Dios a las Indias de occidente es la que en Castilla llaman pimienta de las Indias, y en Indias por vocablo general tomado de la primera tierra de islas que conquistaron nombran ají, y en lengua del Cuzco se dice uchu, y en la de Méjico, chili. Esta es cosa ya bien conocida; y así hay poco que tratar de ella; sólo es de saber que cerca de los antiguos indios fué muy preciada y la llevaban a las partes donde no se da por mercadería importante. No se da en tierras frías, como la sierra del Perú: dáse en valles calientes y de regadío. Hay ají de diversos colores: verde, colorado y amarillo; hay uno bravo, que llaman caribe, que pica y muerde reciamente; otro hay manso, y alguno dulce que se come a bocados. Alguno menudo hay que huele en la boca como almizcle, y es muy bueno. Lo que pica del ají es las venillas y pepita; lo demás no muerde: cómese verde y seco, y molido y entero, y en la olla y en guisados.
Es la principal salsa, y toda la especería de Indias: comido con moderación ayuda al estómago para la digestión; pero si es demasiado, tiene muy ruines efectos; porque de suyo es muy cálido, humoso y penetrativo. Por donde el mucho uso de él en mozos es perjudicial a la salud, mayormente del alma, porque provoca a sensualidad; y es cosa donosa que con ser esta experiencia tan notoria del fuego que tiene en sí, y que al entrar y al salir dicen todos que quema, con todo eso quieren algunos, y no pocos, defender que el ají no es cálido, sino fresco y bien templado. Yo digo que de la pimienta diré lo mismo, y no me traerán más experiencias de lo uno que de lo otro; así que es cosa de burla decir que no es cálido, y en mucho extremo.
Para templar el ají usan de sal, que le corrige mucho, porque son entre sí muy contrarios, y el uno al otro se enfrenan; usan también tomates, que son frescos y sanos, y es un género de granos gruesos jugosos, y hacen gustosa salsa, y por sí son buenos de comer. Hállase esta pimienta de Indias universalmente en todas ellas, en las islas, en Nueva España, en Perú y en todo lo demás descubierto; de modo que, como el maíz es el grano más general para el pan, así el ají es la especia más común para salsa y guisados.
A modern English translation is here, but it seems a bit large of a text to fairly quote from a book with such a recent copyright.

The Quechua word for chili is indeed uchu. Here is a photo of some varieties known by that name growing in Sweden.

In Mayan, the word is ich, written hieroglyphically as i-chi, which I believe means it looks like T679.671. I have not been able to find an actual text online with it in the usual places like Justin Kerr's photos.

In the Aztec writing system, chilli is drawn as a chili pepper. Sometimes that is what it means. For instance, in the Codex Mendoza, on Folio 52r, the two bundles on the right each contain 400 loads of dried chilies, represented by a feather for 400 (the system is vigesimal) and a chili pepper. Note also that the Spanish gloss (written by someone bilingual in Spanish and Nahuatl) says, “de axi seco,” using the Taíno loanword. (As this article points out, Antonio Vázquez in his 1628 book, Compendio y descripción de las Indias Occidentales, described a drink named agitipoche, which would seem to be a combination with tepache, from Nahuatl tepiatl 'a kind of corn drink', showing how much the Spanish spread words from various sources around.) Or a chili glyph can be used as part of a name. On Folio 37r, the places in the left column, second from the top and second from the bottom, are Chilapan and Chilacachapan, drawn as a chilli on a container of apan 'water'. For the latter name, there is something in the water, but evidently it is not clear what. This is still somewhat direct, since Chilapan means something like 'on the water of the chili'. But the system is sometimes more phonetic. For instance, on Folio 42r, on the right, is Chiltecpintlan, 'place of many little chilies', drawn with teeth at the bottom, because tlantli 'teeth' sounds like tlan 'place'.

Mixtec writing uses the same rebus principle. So there may well be names written with ya'a 'chili' as part. But I did not find any or anything like a comprehensive index. On the Codex Nuttall, Lady 3 Flint, who is turning into a feathered serpent, is shown (in the middle at the bottom) holding some chilies in her left hand.

The generic name for chilies is Capsicum, assigned by Linnaeus following Tournefort. The origin of the word is actually somewhat uncertain: it might be from Greek κάπτω in the sense of 'bite' or from Latin capsa 'box'. The OED says, “In either case the formation is etymologically irregular.” The earliest quotation it has is from 1664.

Knowing an earlier use does not even require turning on the computer; Capsicum is used in John Gerard's massive The herball or Generall historie of plantes, in the 1632 edition, for which there is a reasonably priced Dover reprint. This is actually a revision by Thomas Johnson of the original 1597 edition. Oddly enough, I cannot find a scan of either online publicly, only in EEBO. In any case, it says (p. 366; the text is substantially the same on p. 292 of the earlier edition):

Actuarius calleth it in Greeke καψικόν: in Latine, Capſicum: and it is thought to be that which Auicen nameth Zinziber caninum, or dogs Ginger: and Pliny, Siliquaſtrum, which is more like in taſte to pepper than is Panax, and it is therefore called Piperitis as he hath written in his 19. booke, 12. chap. Panax (ſaith he) hath the taſt of pepper and Siliquaſtrum, for which cauſe it is called Piperitis. The later Herbariſts do oftentimes call it Piper Indianum or Indicum, ſometimes Piper Calicuthium, or Piper Hiſpanicum: in Engliſh it is called Ginnie pepper, and Indian pepper: in the Germane tongue, Indianiſcher Pfeffer: in low Dutch, Breſelie Peper: in French, Poiure d'Inde, verie well knowne in the ſhops at Billingſgate by the name of Ginnie pepper, where it is vſually to be bought.

Gerard is mainly an English translation of Rembert Dodoens's 1554 herbal, Crüÿdeboeck. This has two (separate!) full-text digitization efforts, German and Dutch. For naming, it says (Deel 5 capitel 65, bladzijde 677-679):

Dit vremt cruyt wordt ghenaempt van Actuarius in Griecx Capſicon. In Latijn Capſicum/ van Avicenna Zingiber caninum/ van Plinius als ſommighe meynen Siliquaſtrum ende Piperitis/ nu ter tijt Piper Indianum, Piper Calecuthium & Piper Hiſpanum. In Hoochduytſch Indianiſcher pfeffer/ Chalechutiſcher pfeffer. In Neerduytſch Peper van Indien/ ende Breſilie Peper. In Franchois Guinee ou Poyure d’Inde

Before that was Leonhard Fuchs' work of 1542, De historia stirpium commentarii insignes. I cannot find a full-text version, but there are scanned images from the 1549 edition here at the BNF and the 1542 one here but without deep links or downloading. There is also a nicely colored peppers woodcut as part of this exhibition. He does not use Capsicum, but rather Siliquastrum. In his unpublished revisions, known as the Vienna Codex, Fuchs apparently changed to Capsicon. (This research says that he evidently got this from Actuarius, which makes sense, since others claim him as the source. It cites Andrews for this, but I don't think she actually says that: just that it was changed in the revisions and elsewhere that some claimed that source.) What he does say in published form is (p. 692 of the 1549 edition, or jump to spread 382 of the 1542 one):

Siliquastrum conuenientiſsimo nomine à Plinio lib.xx.cap.xvij. dicta eſt herba hæc, à ſiliquis nimirum magnis & oblongis quas producit. Eadem etiam ab eodem Piperitis, quod ſemen eius guſtatum piperis ſaporem & acrimoniam præ ſe ferat, nominatur. Alia tamen eſt ab ea quam uulgò Piperitim appellant, ut ſuprà etiam monuimus. Sunt qui piper Hiſpanum, alij piper Indianum, nonnulli etiam piper ex Chalechut uocant. Auicenna uidetur appellare Zinziber caninum. Germanicè dici poteſt Chalechutiſcher oder Indianiſcher Pfeffer. [Gallicè Guinee.]
This plant is very conveniently named Siliquastrum by Pliny bk. 20 chap. 17, no doubt as it produces large and long pods. The same is named Piperitis by the same, because its seed tastes sharp like pepper. It is also commonly called Piperitim, as we also instructed above. These are the Spanish pepper, or the Indian pepper, some also call it pepper from Calcutta. Avicenna seems to call it dog-ginger. In German, Chalechutischer oder Indianischer Pfeffer. In French, Guinée.

Even before Gerard's first edition was Walter Baley [Bayley]'s small book from 1588, A Short Diſcourſe of the three kindes of Peppers in common vſe, and certaine ſpecial medicines made of the ſame, tending to the preſeruation of health., which evidently uses the same Continental sources. It says (p. B1):

I did neuer ſee the plant, but the cods are common in the Apothecaries ſhops. It is ſuppoſed of many, that the olde Greeke authors haue not written any thing of this plant, but Actuarius ſeemeth to ſpeake of this kinde of pepper, vnder the name of Capſicum.

I probably missed some online versions of these herbals. Leave a comment if you know of any. I wish there were something like OAIster for older scanned and full-text documents. That is, if Google Books doesn't just catch up to everything first.

Note how Gerard and others confuse Capsiums with Guinea Pepper, which is properly Grains of Paradise.

Cayenne pepper is ostensibly named after the city of Cayenne, but the OED says that quiýnha is the Tupi word for it.  Another early folk etymology is Chian pepper like Chian wine from Χίος. The earliest quotation given by the OED is from 1756. Google Books says that cayenne pepper occurs in The London Magazine of 1735, but won't preview it. How can there be copyright issues with something that was published 275 years ago?

Returning to Henry Stubbe's book, whose full title reads:

The Nature of the Cacao-nut, and the other Ingredients of that Compoſition, is examined, and ſtated according to the Judgment and Experience of the Indians, and Spaniſh Writers, who lived in the Indies, and others; with ſundry additional Obſervations made in England: The ways of compounding and preparing Chocolata are enquired into; its Effects, as to its alimental and Venereal quality, as well as Medicinal (eſpecially in Hypochondriacal Melancholy) are fully debated. Together with a Spagyrical Analyſis of the Cacao-nut, performed by that excellent Chymiſt, Monſieur le Febure, Chymiſt to His Majeſty.
By Henry Stubbe formerly of Ch. Ch. in Oxon. Phyſician for His Majeſty, and the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Windſor in the Iſland of Jamaica in the Weſt-Indies.
Thomas Gage, Survey of the West-Indies. chap. 15.
Here [in a certain part of Guaxaca] grow many Trees of Cacao, and Achiote, whereof is made the Chocolatte, and is a Commodity of much trading in thoſe parts, though our Engliſh and Hollanders make little uſe of it, when they take a prize at Sea, as not knowing the ſecret virtue and quality of it for the good of the Stomach.
— Videant, intabeſcántque relictâ.

London, Printed by J. C. for Andrew Crook at the Sign of the Green Dragon in St. Paul's Church-yard. 1662.
It make clear reference to its Spanish sources (Stubbe gets a box on Varey's chart) in a slightly longer version of the same passage as was quoted briefly at the start of this post (p. 10):
It is then clear, that the Indian ordinary Chocolata was made of the Cacao nut, and meal of Indian wheat, and water, and Pocholt, and now and then ſome Pepper called Chille, which was put in, more, or leſs, according to the neceſſity of the Patient's ſtomach, or other circumſtances: So that they made divers ſorts of it, ſome hot, ſome cold, ſome temperate, and put therein much of that Chili, or Chille. So ſaith Acoſta in the place above-mentioned. And I obſerve, that Hernandez, …

Now, in fact, there was an English translation of Acosta by Edward Grimeston in 1604, titled The naturall and morall historie of the East and West Indies Intreating of the remarkable things of heaven, of the elements, mettalls, plants and beasts which are proper to that country: together with the manners, ceremonies, lawes, governments, and warres of the Indians. Written in Spanish by the R.F. Ioseph Acosta, and translated into English by E.G., reprinted in facsimile by The Hakluyt Society in 1880; it says (p. 265):

Of Axi or Indian Pepper. Chap. 20.

They have not found at the Weſt Indies any kinde of Spices, proper or peculiar to them, as pepper, cloves, cinamon, nutmegges or ginger, although one of our company, who had travelled much, and in diverſe partes, tolde vs, that in the deſarts of the Iland of Iamaique he had found trees where pepper grewe. But they are not yet aſſured thereof, neither is there anie trade of theſe ſpices at the Indies,. The ginger was carried from the Indies to Hiſpaniola, and it hath multiplied ſo, as at this day they know not what to do with the great aboundaunce they have. In the fleete the yeare 1587. they brought 22053. quintalls of ginger to Seville: but the naturall ſpice that God hath given to the weaſt Indies, is that we call in Caſtill, Indian pepper, and in India, Axi, as a generall worde taken from the firſt land of the Ilands, which they conquered. In the language of Cuſco, it is called Vchu, and in that of Mexico, Chili. This plant is well knowne, and therefore I will ſpeake alittle, onely wee muſt vnderſtand, that in olde time it was much eſteemd amongſt the Indians, which they carried into places where it grew not, as a marchandiſe of conſequence. It growes not vpon cold grounds, as on the Sierre of Peru, but in hote valleis, where it is often watered. There is of this Axi of diverſe colours, ſome is greene, ſome red, ſome yellow, and ſome of a burning color, which they call Caribe, the which is extreamely ſharpe and biting; there is an other ſort not ſo ſharpe, but is ſo ſweete, as they may eate it alone as any other fruit. There is ſome of it very ſmall and pleaſing in the mouth, almoſt like to the ſmell of muſke, and is very good. That which is ſharpe and biting in this Axi, be the veines and the graine onely; the reſt is not: for that they eate it greene and dry, whole and beaten, in the pot, and in ſawces, being the chiefe ſawce, and all the ſpice they have at the Indies. When this Axi is taken moderately, it helps and comforts the ſtomacke for digeſtion: but if they take too much, it hath bad effects, for of it ſelfe it is very hote, fuming, and pierceth greatly, ſo as the vſe thereof is preiudiciall to the health of yong folkes, chiefely to the ſoule, for that it provokes to luſt. It is ſtrange, that although the fire and heate of it be well knowne by experience, and that every man ſaies, it burnes in the mouth and the ſtomacke; yet ſome, yea many holde, that the Indian pepper is not hote, but colde, and well tempered. But I might ſay to them, the like ſhould be of pepper; though they brought me as many experiences as they woulde of the one and the other: yet is it a very mockery to ſay it is not hote, ſeeing it is in the higheſt degree. They vſe ſalt to temper this Axi, having great ſorce to correct it, and ſo they moderate one with the other by the contrarietie that is in them. They vſe alſo Tomates, which are colde and very wholeſome. It is a kinde of graine great and full of iuyce, the which gives a good taſte to ſawce, and they are good to eate. They have generally throughout the Indies of this Indian pepper, at the Ilands, new Spaine, Peru, and all the reſt that is diſcovered. And as mays is the generall graine for bread, ſo Axi is the moſt common ſpice for ſawces.

Thomas Gage's work cited on Stubbe's title page, The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land:
CONTAINING A Journall of Three thousand and Three hundred Miles within the main Land of AMERICA.
Wherin is set forth his Voyage from Spain to St. Iohn de Ulhua; and from thence to Xalappa, to Tlaxcalla, the City of Angeles, and forward to Mexico; With the description of that great City, as it was in former times, and also at this present.
Likewise his Journey from Mexico through the Provinces of Guaxaca, Chiapa, Guatemala, Vera Paz, Truxillo, Comayagua; with his abode Twelve years about Guatemala, and especially in the Indian-towns of Mixco, Pinola, Petapa, Amatitlan.
As also his strange and wonderfull Conversion, and Calling from those remote Parts to his Native COUNTREY.
With his return through the Province of Nicaragua, and Costa Rica; to Nicoya, Panama, Portobelo, Cartagena, and Havana, with divers occurrents and dangers that did befal in the said Journey.
ALSO, A New and exact Discovery of the Spanish Navigation to those Parts; And of their Dominions, Government, Religion, Forts, Castles, Ports, Havens, Commodities, fashions, behaviour of Spaniards, Priests and Friers, Blackmores, Mulatto's, Mestiso's, Indians; and of their Feasts and Solemnities.
With a Grammar, or some few Rudiments of the Indian Tongue, called, Poconchi, or Pocoman.
By the true and painfull endevours of THOMAS GAGE, now Preacher of the Word of God at Acris in the County of KENT, Anno Dom. 1648.
London, Printed by R. Cotes, and are to be sold by Humphrey Blunden at the Castle in Cornhill, and Thomas Williams at the Bible in Little Britain, 1648.
: a New Survey of the West-India's, from 1648, also has several mentions, such as this one (p. 55, modernized here):

… whether all England could afford ſuch a dainty as a diſh of Frixoles (which is the pooreſt Indians daily food there, being black and dry Turkey or French beanes boyled with a little biting Chille or Indian pepper with garlicke, till the broath become as black as any Inke) …

It often happens that once one knows the way, a shortcut is evident. So here, the Hobson-Jobson entry for chilly has:

[1604. — “Indian pepper. … In the language of Cusco, it is called Vchu, and in that of Mexico, chili.” — Grimston, tr. D'Acosta, H. W. Indies, I. Bk. iv. 239 (Stanf. Dict.)]
A bit cryptic but recognizably the same earliest English quotation.