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Winter Squash

Winter squash is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most of the country. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. When ripened to this stage, fruits of most varieties can be stored for use throughout the winter.

Recommended Varieties

The following varieties of squash are adapted to a wide variety of conditions. They are vining types unless otherwise indicated. Vining squash plants require considerable growing space and are best suited for large gardens. The bush and semi-vining types can be grown in smaller gardens. Occasionally, some of these varieties may be listed as pumpkins by certain seed companies. The distinction between squash and pumpkins is mainly in what you choose to call them. Here, open-pollinated varieties are identified as OP.

Acorn (C. Pepo)—80 to 100 days to harvest.

Cream of the Crop (hybrid - All America Selection winner; uniform white acorn type; creamy smooth, tasty flesh)

Ebony (early; glossy dark green; flaky flesh texture)

Swan White (OP-creamy white skin; pale yellow flesh; smooth, delicate, sweet flesh)

Table Ace (hybrid-semi-bush; uniform, near black fruit; excellent, low-fiber flesh)

Table Gold (OP-compact bush habit, attractive bright golden yellow, may also be harvested as summer squash when light yellow)

Table King (OP-compact bush; dark green, color holds well)

Table Queen (OP-standard dark green acorn type)

Tay-Belle (OP-semi-bush, dark green)

Delicata (C. Pepo)

Delicata (also known as sweet potato squash; long cylindrical shape; cream color with dark green stripes)

Honey Boat (shaped like Delicata, tan background with dark green stripes, very sweet flesh)

Sugar Loaf (tan background, dark green stripes, elongated oval, very sweet)

Sweet Dumpling (flattened round, fluted; light cream to white background, with dark green stripes)

Spaghetti (C. Pepo)

Orangetti (hybrid-semi-bush plant, orange version of spaghetti, high in carotene)

Pasta (yellowish cream fruit, improved flavor)

Stripetti (hybrid of Spaghetti and Delicata, great taste, stores better)

Tivoli (hybrid-bush habit; All America Selection winner; light yellow, uniform fruit, 3 to 4 pounds)

Vegetable Spaghetti (OP-good keeper; light yellow, oblong fruit)

Butternut (C. Mopschata)

Butterbush (bush habit; early, 1 to 2 pound fruit)

Early Butternut (hybrid-All America Selection winner, early, medium size, high yield)

Ponca (extra early, small seed cavity, stores well)

Puritan (OP-uniform, blocky, smooth, slightly smaller than Waltham)

Supreme (hybrid-thick neck; early, uniform, sweet)

Ultra (largest fruit 6 to 10 pounds; good leaf canopy)

Waltham (OP-uniform, thick-necked, 10 to 12 inch fruits)

Zenith (hybrid; smooth, attractive fruit; high yield)

True Winter Squash (C. Maxima)

All Season (bush; orange skin, flesh; 8 or more small fruit per plant)

Banana (pink, blue or gray; long, slim, pointed at the ends; 10 to 30 pounds)

Buttercup (dark green fruit with distinct gray cap at blossom end; the standard for fine-grained, sweet flesh; 3 to 4 pounds)

Delicious (5 to 12 pounds; large, top-shaped, green or gold fruit, smoother than Hubbard)

Emerald Bush Buttercup (bush habit)

Honey Delight (hybrid 3 to 4 pounds; buttonless buttercup type; excellent flesh quality)

Gold Nuggett (5 inch, flattened round; 1 to 2 pounds; orange skin, flesh; bush habit)

Baby, Blue, Chicago, Golden, Green and Warted Hubbard (large teardrop shape, pointed at ends; warted skin; 8 to 25 pounds)

Mooregold (bright orange skin, flesh; excellent keeper with tough rind; buttercup type; 2 to 3 pounds)

Sweet Mama (hybrid-All America Selection winner; semi-vining, buttercup type; uniform; tasty; 2 to 3 pounds)

Sweet Meat (OP-old time favorite; flattened; slate gray skin; 10 to 15 pounds)

Red Kuri (OP-bright red- orange; teardrop-shaped; smooth-textured flesh; 3 to 5 pounds)

For giant varieties, see pumpkin.

When to Plant

Squash is a tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost is past and soil is thoroughly warmed.

Spacing & Depth

The vining types of squash require at least 50 to 100 square feet per hill. Plant seeds one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill). Allow 5 to 6 feet between hills. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants. Allow 7 to 12 feet between rows.

Plant semi-vining varieties one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill) and thin to the best two plants per hill. Allow 8 feet between rows.

Plant bush varieties one inch deep (1 or 2 seeds per foot of row) and thin to a single plant every three feet. Allow five feet between rows.

Care

Squash plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Squash requires minimal care after the vines cover the ground.

Bees are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins and are killed by insecticides. If insecticides are used, they should be applied in late afternoon or early evening after the bees stop visiting blossoms for the day.

Harvesting

Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. Harvest the main part of the crop in September or October, before heavy frosts hit your area. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving two inches of stem attached if possible. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling. Fruits that are not fully mature, have been injured, have had their stems knocked off, or have been subjected to heavy frost do not keep and should be used as soon as possible or be composted (watch for seedlings in the compost).

Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. For prolonged storage, do not pile squash more than two fruits deep. It is preferable, where space allows, to place the fruits in a single layer so that they do not touch each other. This arrangement minimizes the potential spread of rots.

Common Problems

Cucumber beetlesattack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. They can be controlled with a suggested insecticide applied weekly either as a spray or dust. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles in early September because these beetles can damage the mature fruits.

For more information on cucumber beetles, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Squash bugsattack vines as the fruit begin to set and increase in numbers through the late summer, when they can be quite damaging to maturing fruit. They hatch and travel in groups, which seem to travel in herds until they reach maturity. Using the proper insecticide when the numbers of this pest are still small minimizes damage.

For more information on squash bugs, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. Can squash varieties cross-pollinate with one another or with pumpkins in the garden?

A. Yes. Any variety of squash or pumpkin in the same species can cross-pollinate. Cross-pollination does not affect the current crop, but the seed does not come true the following year.

Q. Does squash make as good a pie as pumpkin?

A. Yes. Most people cannot tell whether pumpkin or squash is used in a pie. This finding is not surprising given the whimsical application of the names pumpkin and squash. Many cooks prefer winter squash to pumpkin because they make a non-fibrous pie, much more akin to the C. moschata processing pumpkins commonly bought canned. (C. moschata is closely related to butternut squash.)

Q. I have vine borers in my squash. Can I control them with insecticides?

A. No. Vine borers cannot be controlled effectively with insecticides. You can reduce potential damage the following season by disposing of infested plants. Vining types of squash can be encouraged to root at the nodes, giving the plant some ability to withstand attacks of vine borers. Some success in control of an active infestation may be achieved by carefully splitting open areas being fed upon and removing the larvae.

Q. Is Turk's Turban an edible squash?

A. Yes, but it has relatively poor flesh quality and is more often grown for its ornamental value than for cooking.

Selection & Storage

The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) includes pumpkins, summer squash and winter squash. They are really edible gourds. There are many varieties with a wide range of flavors and textures. Winter squash does not look the same either. Their tough outer shells can be smooth or bumpy, thin or thick and rock hard with a wide array of colors.

The most popular winter squash includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicata, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Terk's Turban. There are many more, but this section will be limited to the above-mentioned varieties.

Winter squash is planted in the spring, grows all summer and is always harvested at the mature stage in early autumn before the first frost. Immature winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, which will cause early decay.

For storage, harvest sturdy, heavy squashes with fairly glossy skin that is unblemished by soft spots, cuts, breaks or uncharacteristic discoloration. Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days.

After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50 degrees), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Careful, do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures simply mean shorter storage time.

The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. Fiber, which was once called roughage, absorbs water and becomes bulky in the stomach. It works throughout the intestinal track, cleaning and moving waste quickly out of the body. Research suggests that this soluble fiber plays an important role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer.

Winter squash is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene. The orange-fleshed squash is also an excellent source of beta carotene. As a general rule, the deeper the orange color, the higher the beta carotene content. Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A being essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance as well as many other functions.

The nutrient content of winter squash varies, depending on the variety. The following information is a summary of all varieties, cooked, baked and cubed.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, cubes)

Calories 79.95
Protein 1.82 grams
Carbohydrate 17.94 grams
Dietary Fiber 5.74 grams
Calcium 28.7 mg
Iron 0.67 mg
Potassium 895.85 mg
Folate 57.40 mcg
Vitamin A 7,291.85

Preparation & Serving

Peeling winter squash can be a challenge to the novice. The thin-skinned varieties (acorn, butternut, delicata and sweet dumpling) can be peeled with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

Most recipes using these varieties call for cutting the squash in half. Position the squash on a cutting board, stem end facing you. Place the blade of a heavy chef's knife horizontally along the length of the squash. With a hammer or mallet, repeatedly hit the back of the blade near the handle to drive it into the squash until it breaks in half.

Place the larger varieties (Hubbard and Turk's Turban) on newspaper and use a sharp cleaver to split the hard-rind open. Or use the chef's knife method described above. Once you have a slit cut, bang on a hard surface and pull apart. Pieces are easier to peel. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard, or set aside if you plan to roast the seeds. For instructions on roasting seeds, visit our website Pumpkins and More and substitute squash seeds in the recipe.

To cook winter squash, place unpeeled pieces cut sides down on a shallow baking dish and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or longer. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or skewer. When tender, remove from the oven and allow the pieces to cool. Spoon out the soft flesh and mash with a fork or process in a blender or food processor. Peeled pieces can be cut into cubes and boiled until tender. Use with any recipe calling for cooked mashed or pureed squash. Or microwave the squash pieces on high for 15 minutes or longer.

Small acorn squash and spaghetti squash can be pierced in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer and baked whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking. Place the squash on a baking dish and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 325°F. Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives a bit with pressure, it is done.

Home Preservation

Store whole winter squash in an area where temperatures range from 45 to 50°F for three to six months. At room temperature reduce storage time to one and a half to three months depending on variety. See the selection and storage information above.

Cooked squash freezes well. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch head space and freeze for up to one year. Canning is not recommended unless the squash is cut into cubes.

Mashed squash is too dense and heat penetration is uneven. Because spaghetti squash does not stay cubed on heating, it should be frozen instead of canned. For all other varieties, follow the procedure and processing times outlined in canning pumpkin.

Recipes

Herbs and spices used to enhance the flavor of winter squash include garlic, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, basil, parsley and a pinch of ground cloves. Sweeten squash pulp with maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or orange juice concentrate.

Squash Bread

Equally delicious for breakfast, snack or as a light dessert, this honey sweetened loaf can be spread with low-fat cream cheese or whipped butter. To warm: Wrap thick slices in a paper towel and microwave for 15 to 20 seconds on high.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1 1/4 cup pureed cooked winter squash*

  1. On a plate, sift together first six ingredients. Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, mix oil, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy.

  3. Beat in egg and egg white. Add squash puree and beat until smooth.

  4. Fold in dry ingredients. Turn into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.

  5. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about one hour. Remove from the oven, let stand in pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack or cake plate to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Variation:

Squash Bread with Nut Topping

2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

After Step 4, pour melted butter over the top and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake as directed above. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.

Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan Cheese

One 4 to 5 pound spaghetti squash
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or parsley
Additional parmesan cheese for passing

  1. Pierce squash in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer. Place on baking pan and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using potholders, squeeze squash to test for doneness. It is ready when it gives slightly under pressure. Remove and cool.

  2. Heat a saucepan over heat, pour in olive oil. Add garlic and cook until tender but not browned for about 5 minutes.

  3. When squash is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and stringy portions. Using a fork, pull pulp from the shell in long strands and add them to the warm garlic oil.
  4. Toss squash strands gently with pepper, salt and cheese. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with basil or parsley. Serve immediately. Pass additional cheese at the table. Serves 6.

Variations

Strains of cooked spaghetti squash can be tossed with your favorite marinara sauce, mushroom sauce or pesto. The empty shell halves are nice to use as a serving bowl.