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A Cook's Guide to Winter Squashes

Updated on June 6, 2010

 

Winter squash, summer squash, acorn squash, zucchini, butternut squash – it’s enough to give a cook a headache! Hopefully, this article will help clear up some of the confusion revolving around the different varieties of squashes.

 

First of all, squash is divided into two major categories: summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash is planted in the early spring and is ready to harvest in late spring or early summer, since some varieties take only 45 days to mature. Summer squash doesn’t keep long without being canned or frozen.

 

Winter squash is usually planted in the spring, also, but it takes much longer to mature. In fact, some varieties require as long as four months. In that case, squash planted on May 1st will be ready to harvest on September 1st. Because of winter squashes’ thick skin, they store well without freezing or canning. Many winter squash varieties harvested in the early fall will still be good to eat in the winter. Hence the name.

 

Many of use colorful winter squashes as decorations in the fall, but not all of us actually eat the flesh. They’re delicious, and they provide lots of healthy benefits. They’re a good source of beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, folate, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan, copper, and vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6. And you get all these great benefits for about 80 calories per serving!

 

There are many wonderful, attractive, interesting varieties of winter squash. Below are some of the most popular.

 

Popular Winer Squash Varieties

acorn squash
acorn squash

Acorn Squash

Acorn – an acorn-shaped squash with sweet, slightly peppery flesh. Excellent for drizzling with maple syrup and baking. Select fruits that weigh 3 pounds or less. Green varieties and yellow varieties can be found. Available all year.

ambercup squash
ambercup squash

Ambercup Squash

Ambercup – a round squash with bright orange flesh. Its sweet flesh is best roasted with butter. These squash have a very long shelf life. Available June-November.

autumncup squash
autumncup squash

Autumncup Squash

 

Autumncup – a round squash with sweet golden flesh. Choose fruits that weigh about 3 pounds. This squash is wonderful when pureed with chicken broth and sage. Available September-December.

banana squash
banana squash

Banana Squash

 

Banana squash – a large oblong squash with sweet orange flesh and a nice texture. Great when steamed with butter and fresh herbs. Available all year, but the peak season is July-October.

buttercup squash
buttercup squash

Buttercup Squash

 

Buttercup squash - a round squash with a sweet potato-like taste. This is one of the sweetest of the winter squash. Excellent for baking, pureeing, mashing, and stuffing. Available all year but best October-January.

 

butternut squash
butternut squash

Butternut Squash

 

Butternut squash – a pear-shaped squash with a nutty, sweet potato-like flavor. Choose fruits that weigh under 6 pounds and have a deep orangey color. Great to use in soups and for baking. Available all year but most abundant October-January.

 

carnival squash
carnival squash

Carnival Squash

 

Carnival squash – a brightly colored round squash with yellow flesh. It tastes similar to sweet potatoes and is good in soups and baked. Available all year but most abundant August-October.

delicata squash
delicata squash

Delicata Squash

 

Delicata squash – a very old squash variety with an edible skin. The creamy flesh tastes somewhat like corn. Try it mashed, with butter and cream. Choose fruits that are less than 11 inches long. Available all year but best August-October.

 

Hubbard squash
Hubbard squash

Hubbard Squash

 

Hubbard squash – very large squash with thick, warty skins. The moist yellow flesh is dense, with a mild flavor. They’re not as sweet as other varieties, but with added sugar, they make wonderful pies. It’s also delicious when baked with apples, brown sugar, and pecans. Hubbard squash is available in three sub-types: green, golden, and grey. Mature Hubbards can be stored for up to six months. Available all year, but the peak season is October-February.

spaghetti squash
spaghetti squash

Spaghetti Squash

 

Spaghetti squash – an oblong squash with a mild, slightly nutty flavor. Its stringy flesh resembles noodles and is often served with spaghetti sauce. Choose fruits with a deeper golden color. Available year round. Peak season is October-February.

 

sweet dumpling squash
sweet dumpling squash

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Sweet dumpling squash – a very small round squash. Its sweet, creamy flesh and its diminutive size make it perfect for individual servings when baked whole. Available September-December.

 

 

turban squash
turban squash

Turban Squash

 

Turban squash – a large bulbous squash that tastes like a combination of pumpkin and nuts. Its bright autumn colors make it a favorite for Thanksgiving centerpieces and decorations. Great baked or made into a soup. Available all year but most abundant August-October.

How to Select Winter Squash

Winter squash should have a tough, thick skin, and the stem should be hard. Examine the squash for holes, blemishes, indentions, and mold. Pick the squash up – it should be heavy for its size. The skin shouldn’t be glossy. Fruits with a deeper, more developed color will have sweeter flesh.

Some winter squash varieties are inherently misshapen, with wart-like growths. Don’t let this influence your decision. These might seem like imperfections, but they’re not.

How to Store Winter Squash

Winter squash can keep for months if properly stored. Store in a cool, dry location, away from direct sunlight. The squash should have proper ventilation on all sides. The ideal temperature for storage is 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Winter squash can also be frozen. To freeze, peel and cook the squash until completely done. Drain away any water, mash the squash, and allow it to cook. Place in boxes or bags and freeze. Your squash should keep for at least six months in the freezer.

To learn more about handling winter squashes, watch the video below.

For recipes using winter squash, click the links below the video.

 

Comments

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      What a wonderful resource for those of us who love winter squash. Thank you for providing it. One of our favorites is kobucha. We love it for its natural sweetness--delicious by itself. Sometimes we sneak into the fridge for leftovers and eat them cold and plain.

    • Bettyoverstreet10 profile image

      Betty (Alawine) Overstreet 

      7 years ago from Vacaville, Ca.

      what a great, informative hub! thanks so much. I have a buttercup squash growing and have never had them before. just bought the wrong little plant-was looking for butternut. I only have one squash growing on the looooonnnnng vine!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      We used to grow both, Nancy.

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the great information on winter squash. We always plant and eat summer squash so I didn't know that much about winter squash.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Western!

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      10 years ago from Iowa

      Your food hubs are making my mouth water! Yum!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      HH, maybe you haven't had it prepared correctly??

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      So do I, Sandy!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, MOW, that is SO nice of you to even suggest!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      Sorry, habee, that is one vegetable I can't eat. Great hub so and well put together.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Great squash hub. I love cooking with squash.

    • myownworld profile image

      myownworld 

      10 years ago from uk

      Oh Habee, you're on a roll, i have to say! All your hubs are just perfection! Keep at it, but hey, remember to take a pampering break. You know how I always worry about you burning out! Take care... and I won't be surprised if you win the entire competition! x

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