Winter Squash

Pumpkins and Beyond

 

Winter squashes are currently in grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands. They will be available in diminishing capacity throughout the winter months. Pumpkin, of course, is the most popular of the winter squash family. Pumpkin pie always finds a place in traditional holiday meals.

Nevertheless, there are many varieties beyond pumpkin. Butternut, delicata and spaghetti squash are all getting a lot of attention with celebrity chefs, cooking magazines, and foodie websites.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of winter squash and they are popular worldwide. Pumpkins and winter squash are planted in the spring, grow all summer long and are always harvested at the mature stage, in early fall, before the first frost. They are all members of the Cucurbitaceae family. This large group includes not only pumpkins and squash, but gourds as well. Healthy eating Nutritionally, you cannot go wrong with winter squash. They are naturally low in fat and calories, high in potassium, fiber, folate, and vitamin A. Each variety of winter is slightly different in nutritional value. A good rule to remember: The deeper the interior color of the squash the higher the nutritional value.

Generally, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that meals rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check. Winter squash fits the bill. Cooking winter squash

To cook most winter squash; wash, rinse and pat dry. Cut in half, place cut side down on a shallow baking dish and bake at 350°F for 30minutes or longer. Check for doneness by piercing with a long-tined fork or knifepoint. When tender, remove from the oven. Allow to cool (for handling), spoon out the soft flesh and seeds. Proceed with your recipe. For microwaving, cook on high, cut-side down, cook for 15minutes or until fork tender.

Below are some popular varieties you may want to try:

Butternut—Shaped rather like a bowling pin, butternut squash is round on the bottom, with a long narrow tapering neck. It is tan allover, with sweet orange flesh.
Butternuts with greenish stripes are under ripe. This one is easy to peel, and all the seeds are located in the round base. Store up to three months in a cool, dark place.

Calabaza (kah-lah-BAH-sa)—Calabaza is a Spanish generic term for squash that also refers to a few specific ones, particularly Caribbean winter squashes, and Cuban squash, which are very large and more pumpkin-like than squash like with bright orange flesh. There is also a miniature variety. Store for three to four months.

Delicata—This slender, elongated squash, also known as the Bohemian or Peanut, has pale yellow skin with dark green stripes. It is slightly sweet with yellow flesh and has a very tasty corn-like flavor. The rind is tender and edible. Store for only about two to three months.

Japanese Pumpkin—There are several varieties in this group, which are known by its Japanese name, kabocha, or its Cantonese name, “nam gwa.” One small round variety has a dark green rind, with light green markings. The flesh is sweet, pale orange with a chestnut-like flavor. Itis a pretty squash, which can be treated like acorn squash in most recipes. There is also a large brilliant orange-skinned, bumpy, tear-shaped variety known as “Red Kuri.”

Pumpkin—There are several varieties of pumpkin. Contrary to popular belief, the pumpkin is a variety of winter squash. The giant Jack-O-Lantern or Field Pumpkin is best for carving, as the flesh is stringy, watery and not very tasty. The seeds, however, are delicious roasted. The smaller sweet pumpkin, or pie pumpkin, is best for cooking and of course, pies.

The Cinderella pumpkin(heirloom) is large, squat and bright orange, gray or tan in color. Giant Atlantic pumpkins can reach up to600 pounds. You can store unblemished, small, heavy pie pumpkin or sweet pumpkin for up to three to six months. Wickersham Sweet Potato Pumpkin or squash is grown in the northern states. Folk
names for pumpkins and squash vary from region to region.

Spaghetti—This one is oval in shape, with a pale yellow rind. It is called the “vegetable spaghetti “because the flesh forms long noodle-like strands when cooked. Cut in half-length-wise and remove seeds and fibrous mass, bake and use a fork to gently loosen the yellow strands into a bowl. It is excellent lightly dressed with your favorite pasta sauce.

Selection and storage

For storage, select sturdy, heavy squashes with dull skin. Very glossy squash are immature. Inspect and select unblemished squash with no soft spots, cuts, breaks or uncharacteristic discoloration. Most winter squash benefit from a curing stage; the exceptions are atom and
delicata. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature(about 70°) for 10 to 20 days.
After curing, transfer to a cooler(45°-50°), dry place such as the basement or garage for long-term storage. Place a thermometer nearby. 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 atom and butternut do not store as well—only up to three months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator. Enjoy pumpkins and winter squash this season!

Prepared by Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness; University of Illinois Extension in Bourbonnais, IL

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