What to do with Winter squash

We are down to the last three months of 2020 and despite the pandemic, which has severely restricted all sorts of activities for most people, it seems to me like an eye blink since the year began.

In about six weeks I will return to Florida for the winter, but there is still lots of gardening to finish before I leave.

Garden clean up and planting garlic are my top two priorities right now, but I have red cabbage, potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts to harvest as well. I also hope my fall crop of beets is able to grow to harvest size and the Napa cabbage I transplanted in mid-September matures. It was a very dry September and the 3-inch rainfall earlier this week was a bit too late to help much.

Most years, I grow at least some winter squash, since I really enjoy eating this long-lasting, easy-to-store fruit. Most varieties take a lot of garden space as the vines may wander 10 feet, or even more, but there are bush “dwarf” types of many of them that only spread out 6-8 feet. They generally don’t lend themselves to trellising like cucumbers, though. There are several different types but most have similar characteristics: hard shells, yellow to orange flesh and lots of seeds to scoop out!

Acorn squash is shaped like an acorn and each fruit is relatively small, providing a meal for one or two people. They are quite decorative with black, yellow or white varieties. Of all the winter squash, they keep the shortest time and should be eaten within a month of harvest. I consider them the least flavorful of all the winter squash.

The only winter squash I have grown in the past few years has been spaghetti squash. These yellow -olored, mostly round-shaped fruit are ready to harvest when the skin is too hard to pierce with your fingernail. This is when all winter squash are ready to pick, actually.

I have grown spaghetti squash from seed I save each year for the past three years. This is not recommended since many squash will cross pollinate and there is no guarantee the fruit you pick will be exactly like the one you ate.

Each of the past three years the fruit have been slightly different, but still tasty!

The largest fruited squash, not counting giant pumpkins, are Hubbard. These somewhat round but often irregularly shaped squash are tan to greenish colored and usually reach 10-20 pounds or more. The flesh is orange-colored, sweet and they store very well for months if properly cured.

All winter squash and pumpkins will last longest if they are fully mature before harvest. Pumpkins will continue to turn orange if harvested when half of the fruit has already turned color. If possible, cure all winter squash by holding them at 80 degrees for two weeks. I am not sure where anyplace in someone’s home is going to remain at 80 degrees in upstate New York in October, but perhaps a warm attic, or maybe in your car with the windows rolled up. Wipe the squash down with a damp cloth that has a bit of rubbing alcohol on it to kill any surface germs before curing.

Butternut squash are perhaps the most popular type, since they have sweet flesh and are available in many sizes, but usually are about 2 or 3 pounds. Their very sweet flesh is usually what is sold as canned “pumpkin.” If you want to make a “pumpkin” pie, this is what you should use. True pumpkin flesh is usually too stringy and not as sweet as butternut. Butternut squash will store longer than acorn, but not as long as Hubbard or pumpkins.

Finally, there are two other winter squash well worth growing for their great taste and storage qualities. One is called “Delicata.” It resembles a butternut squash without the bulbous end, but is not tan in color. These are usually yellow with green longitudinal stripes. They are available as both bush and trailing varieties. Buttercup squash often have gnarly skin with warts and they look like a smaller squash has been stuffed inside a slightly larger one. They come in green or red shades and are my favorite to eat!

Remove the seeds and bake in an oven until the flesh is soft, add a few tablespoons of maple syrup and some butter for a great winter side dish.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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