Wonderful Winter Squash
One sure sign that Fall is near is the appearance of wonderful Winter squash at the farmers market. While it is available year-round in grocery stores, it peaks in availability from local farmers in October and November. The name, winter squash, reflects the fact that this type of squash keeps well so can be enjoyed long into the winter months. These very versatile vine or bush-ripened fruits come in many shapes and colors and are used in both sweet and savory recipes.
Winter squash is a powerhouse on the nutrition front – rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamins A and C, as well as B vitamins, omega 3 fats, fiber, copper, manganese, and magnesium.
BRIEF HISTORY OF WINTER SQUASH
The origins of Winter squash have been traced to South America and Mexico, later making its way to North America. Interestingly, Winter squash’s history shows it was an important staple in early South, Central, and North American cuisine along with corn and beans, and played a role in the practice of “companion planting” in farming.
“The corn and the beans made a complete protein, the squash supplied beta carotene,
Omega 3’s and Potassium. Whole communities could survive on these alone if
game and other foods were scarce. They were also one of the first Companion
Plantings, each contributing to the growth and well-being of the others. The corn
supplied support for the beans to climb on and shade for the squash plants during
the heat of the day. The squash plants large leaves shaded the ground, prevented
weeds and deterred hungry wildlife that didn’t like to walk through the fuzzy vines. The
beans fixed nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and the squash.”
— Melody Rose, Dave’s Garden, January 2015
Currently, in the United States, California, Michigan, Florida, and Georgia are the largest producers of Winter squash, with large amounts also imported to the US from Mexico.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
When Winter squash is picked in late summer or early fall, it is “cured” in a sunny, dry place for 7 – 10 days to ensure it will keep for months without refrigeration.
Look for squash that –
- is free of nicks or cuts, soft spots, or other damage
- has a deep matte color rather than shiny color which can signal it was picked too soon and not properly cured
- has a firm, dry, tan-colored stem, not one that is soft or seeping sap
- feels heavy for its size indicating it has plenty of water inside
As a general rule for determining what size to buy for use in a recipe, each pound (1) of squash will yield approximately 2 cups peeled and diced.
Whole Winter squash should be stored outside of the refrigerator – on a counter, in a pantry, or any cool area of the home – and will last anywhere from a couple of weeks up to several months depending on conditions. The best temperature for long-term storage of a whole squash is around 50° – 60° F. Butternut, Acorn, and Hubbard varieties seem to have the longest shelf life. Those with thinner skins, such as Delicata or Spaghetti squash, have a shorter shelf life. Regularly check stored squash for signs of softening or decay.
Once cut, wrap any unused portions of squash tightly and refrigerate for up to one week.
HOW TO USE
There are thousands of varieties of squash available, each with a slightly different look, texture, and flavor, yet they are extremely versatile in their use in sweet and savory dishes. Choose squash with a firm texture for dishes where maintaining shape is important. Those with a soft texture work well for mashing or pureeing.
Here are seven easy-to-find varieties and a few ideas on preparation and use to get you started. Once you’ve tried these, see what other varieties you can find and creative ways to use them!
|VARIETY||FLAVOR & TEXTURE||PREPARATION||USE: Works well in / as…|
|ACORN||mild to very sweet flavor
|BUTTERNUT||mid-range sweetness, slightly nutty flavor
smooth, firm texture
moist, creamy texture
|HUBBARD||very sweet, rich, pumpkin flavor
|KABOCHA||very sweet, slightly nutty flavor
drier texture, similar to sweet potato
|SPAGHETTI||mild flavor, not sweet
tender, chewy texture
|SWEET DUMPLING||very sweet flavor
tender, dry, starchy texture
To print a copy of this guide, CLICK HERE.
TIPS FOR CUTTING AND PEELING
Cutting and peeling a raw Winter squash with its thick skins and odd shapes can be a challenge! Here are a few tips for making it safer and easier.
- Use a sharp, large chef’s knife, not a slicing or paring knife. Sharp is key – it moves through the squash more efficiently and lessens the chance of slipping.
- Keep your cutting board from slipping by placing a damp cloth or silicone pad underneath.
- Trim the stem and bottom ends of the squash first to make flat sides. Place one of the flat sides on the cutting board for all further peeling and cutting.
- To peel – use a knife, not a vegetable peeler. Run the knife just under the skin, cutting downward and away from you toward the cutting board.
See “How to Peel a Squash: An Easier Way” from The Kitchn.
- To cut into pieces – place one of the flat sides (top or bottom end) onto the cutting board to stabilize the squash. After that, cut vertically, going down through the squash.
- For cutting an Acorn squash in half for stuffing, see tips presented by The Kitchn – “The Best Way to Cut an Acorn Squash in Half”
For even easier cutting and peeling –
- Roast the whole squash in the oven – at 400°F for about 15 – 20 minutes depending on size until only partially baked (just starting to soften but still very firm). Remove from oven, cool, then cut and peel as needed. Continue roasting to cook completely or use in the desired recipe.
For a delicious Butternut Squash recipe, check out “Roasted Squash Curry Bowl” on the Love + Craft Kitchen blog.
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