This is the season for winter squash. A lot of us are attracted to colorful hard squash but don't know what to do with it after we grow or buy it. Can we eat it straight away? What about how to cook it? Is wearing it as a hat an option?
Answers: You can't necessarily chow down on a squash right after it is picked. Some squash varieties need a curing period for peak flavor. You can eat squash raw or cooked (but it is a lot softer cooked!) As for the hat question - let's just say that it will make quite the statement headgear and I recommend choosing a bright color.
See below to answer more of your questions about cooking, curing and storing winter squash!
Squash Nutritional Facts
Here is a simple recipe I enjoy making in the winter.
Easy roasted Acorn squash with brown sugar
Ingredients (per each squash):
- acorn squash
- 2-3 tablespoons butter (or vegan alternative)
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
- sprinkle of salt
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and/or cloves
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut squash in half whichever way you choose.
- Scoop out seeds and pulp (tip: squash seeds are great when roasted in the oven with oil and salt!)
- Place the squash with cut side up on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment.
- Spread half of the butter inside each half of the squash. Sprinkle the brown sugar or pour the maple syrup inside of each squash half. Feel free to adjust the sugar content depending on your sweet tooth.
- If desired, sprinkle each side with a pinch of salt and/or add other spices.
- Roast for 55-70 minutes, or until the squash halves have a nice brown color and are cooked through.
- Don't worry about overcooking; extra roasting caramelizes the squash and gives it a great flavor.
Selecting the perfect squash:
- Winter squash should seem heavy for their size with a hard rind free of mold, bruises and soft spots.
- Winter squash have a hard skin, called a rind, unlike summer squash who have a soft thin skin and are thus more sensitive to bruises, bumps and criticism.
Curing winter squash:
- Curing should take place in a warm dry spot with good air circulation.
- It may take 1 week to 1 month depending on type of squash, size of the fruit and the curing conditions. Big squash take longer.
- Ideal temperature for curing is 80°-85° F. You can cure squash in a sunny dry field or a dry warm room. Make sure to turn the squash to cure its underside half way through the curing process.
Storing winter squash:
- Squash do not require refrigeration. Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for 1-6 months depending on variety.
- Ideally store at 50-55° F with a relative humidity of 50-70% —high storage humidity can cause rotting.
- Do not store squash near ripening fruit such as apples or pears. Ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which can cause the squash to yellow and eventually rot.
Squash curing and storage times:
- Acorn: no cure required, storage 1-2.5 months
- Spaghetti squash: cure 1-2 weeks, storage 1-2.5 months
- Delicata: no cure required, storage 2-3 months
- Hubbard varieties: cure 1 month, storage 3-6 months
- Banana: cure 2 weeks, storage 3-6 months
- Buttercup: cure 1 month, storage 3-6 months
- Pumpkins: cure 2 weeks to 1 month, storage 3-6 months
- Kabocha: cure 1 month, storage 4-6 months
- Butternut: cure 2 months, storage 4-6 months
Why cure winter squash?
Curing prepares winter squash for long term storage.
- When squash cures the excess moisture in the vegetable evaporates. This slows the squash's respiration rate.
- Respiration primer:
- Fruits and vegetables use stored nutrients, such as glucose (sugar) and water, to maintain cellular function and keep themselves alive.
- Glucose (C6H12O6) is transformed into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) using oxygen (O2).
- Once the glucose is used, the vegetable begins to wilt.
- As water evaporates during curing, natural sugars are concentrated. This results in a sweeter tasting squash.
- Curing hardens the skin of winter squash. This harder skin slows respiration, protects against rot and soft spots, and promotes a longer storage.
- Harder rinds also make for a more waterproof hat.