I love our fall family trip to the pumpkin farm! Besides picking out the perfect pumpkins for carving and decorating, I love exploring other winter squash — bulbous butternut; bumpy blue (or orange or cream-colored) hubbard; vibrant orange/red (or green) kabocha; and fairytale pumpkins, reminiscent of Cinderella’s coach. Of course there are standard varieties, too, from acorn to spaghetti. Over the years, I’ve learned to cook with most of them, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (a favorite source for seeds, heirloom and otherwise!) has nice photos of different varieties of squash, if you’d like to learn the names of some of them.
Winter squash are super healthful, delicious, and versatile for cooking (think soups, sides, breads, main dishes, even desserts!). And it’s a good idea to stock up, because they’re so easy to store — for months on end, even!
What’s the difference between winter squash and summer squash?
Summer squash is harvested in the summer, while winter squash (though still planted in the spring) is harvested in the fall. Winter squash is much hardier than summer varieties. Summer squash needs to be eaten or put up (frozen, for example) right away, while winter squash can be stored through the winter as is.
How to choose winter squash
• Choose squash that’s blemish free, without bruises or cuts.
• Make sure the squash is fully mature. Mature squash will have very hard skin and a dull-looking rather than shiny surface.
• Choose squash with an intact stem. It will help prevent rot during storage. (There’s one exception: hubbard squash stores better with the stem removed.)
• Once you’ve purchased (or harvested) your squash, handle it carefully. If you cut or bruise the squash, it provides an opportunity for organisms to enter and rot the fruit.
Preparing winter squash for storage
When you bring winter squash in from the garden or home from the farm or market:
• Clean it by wiping off loose dirt and debris with a clean cloth.
• Cure it, if necessary. (See directions below.)
• To slow the growth of microorganisms that can cause winter squash to rot, wipe with a cloth dipped in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Another option is to use diluted bleach. (Experts, including the USDA, recommend 1 or 2 tablespoons per gallon of water.) I don’t like to use bleach, but it might be tougher on those little organisms.
BTW, if the squash has been nipped by frost, you’re better off using it than storing it.
How to cure squash in prep for storage
Curing (drying) hardens the skin of the squash and heals minor cuts. Most squash will keep longer if you cure it. This includes buttercup, butternut, hubbard, and spaghetti squash. (Acorn squash should not be cured; curing will reduce its quality and storage time.)
To cure winter squash:
• Place the squash on a frame or surface that allows the air to circulate around it. (A wooden pallet, a frame made out of chicken wire, or even a picnic table would work.)
• Arrange the squash so that they are not touching, to allow for air circulation.
• Place in a warm, sunny place (about 80 to 85 degrees F with humidity of about 80 to 85 percent) for about a week to 10 days.
• Test the squash to tell when it’s cured: Gently push your fingernail into the skin. If leaves a cut or bruise, the squash isn’t yet cured. If you can hardly tell where you pushed your fingernail, that means it’s ready to store.
BTW, squash you buy at the supermarket might already be cured. You can use the fingernail test to tell. If it’s already cured, it’s ready to store. If not, take the time to cure the squash for storage (unless, of course, it’s on this week’s menu).
Storing winter squash
Give it a good temperature range.
The best environment for storing winter squash is a cool, dry, well ventilated area with temps of 50 to 55 degrees F and humidity of 50 to 70 percent. But don’t stress; even at room temperature, squash will keep for a long time; some winter squash will keep for months in a kitchen cupboard.
Warmer temps will cut storage time, but you’ll still have great squash. But lower temps will affect quality. Whatever you do, don’t let your squash freeze!
Give it good air circulation.
Place winter squash on a rack or shelf. Don’t leave it on the floor, especially a cold cement floor. You don’t want squash touching each other, but once squash has been cured, you can store them together (use straw or paper as a cushion between them) in an open crate, for example. The paper or straw not only protects the produce, it can also help with air circulation between the squash and even absorb some of the humidity that shows up.
Keep winter squash away from other ripening produce.
Avoid putting winter squash near fruits that emit ethylene gas, such as apples and pears. Ethylene gas can cause the squash to rot.
Check on your stored winter squash.
Check on the squash often. If one starts getting dark or shriveled spots, use it up. Remove and compost any squash that has gone bad. It’s not only apples; one bad squash can ruin the whole box!
How long will winter squash last?
The answer to this question depends a lot on the type of squash, when it was harvested, how well it was cured, what temp it’s store at, etc. But here are some ballpark numbers for winter squash storing.
Acorn — 1 to 2 months
Banana squash — 3 to 6 months
Buttercup (turban) squash — 3 to 6 months
Butternut — 2 to 4 months
Connecticut field pumpkins — 2 to 3 months
Delicata — 2 to 3 months (though, because of its delicate skin, it’s more susceptible to damage and spoiling)
Gray and green kabocha — 3 to 4 months
Hubbard squash — 3 to 6 months
Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins — 2 to 3 months
Mini kabocha — 3 to 4 months
Red kuri (a type of hubbard) — 3 to 4 months
Spaghetti — 2 ½ mos
Sweet dumpling — 2 to 3 months
Sweet meat — 4 to 6 months
Winter sweet kabocha — 4 to 5 months
A few more tips about storing and using winter squash
• Use a knife, rather than a peeler, to peel the squash. (It’s too big a job for most peelers!)
• When possible, remove skin after cooking; it’ll make the task easier.
• If it’s really hard to cut into the squash, warm it first briefly in the microwave or oven.
• If the flesh is fibrous, mix it with a hand mixer in a bowl. The fibers will attach themselves to the beaters.
• One squash can be substituted for another in most recipes, with the exception of spaghetti squash.
• Once cut, store squash in the refrigerator for four to five days. Wrap in plastic, or place in a produce bag or storage container.
• Once you cook your squash, you can freeze the flesh.
Are you a squash lover? What’s your favorite variety? Do you have squash in storage this winter?
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