Eating Squash and Pumpkins

By Charlie Nardozzi

Winter squash and pumpkins are true foods of fall. With the cooler weather, it's time to harvest and store your squash fruits for cooking later. There's a diversity of types to grow and eat, each with its own unique flavor and texture.

After harvest it's best to let the squash sit and mature a few weeks to enhance the flavor. Then the fun begins. Winter squash and pumpkins can be baked, steamed, and added to soups, stews, and casseroles. Squash are high in fiber and vitamins A and C. They are a hardy food for a hardy time of year.

Here are descriptions of different types of winter squash, recommendations for harvesting and storing, and even a recipe to try.

Various Winter Squash

Winter squash are a native crop with tough skins and meaty flesh. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Pumpkins are a type of winter squash. While there are many types of winter squash available, the most common ones are acorn, butternut, and buttercup. Here is a description of these and a few others that you might try this fall in your recipes.

Acorn - This squash type has black, dark green, or white skin and an acorn-shaped, ribbed fruit. It has pale yellow flesh that's dry and sweet. It's typically baked or steamed.

Butternut - This bottle-shaped squash has smooth, tan-colored skin at maturity and moist, orange flesh. It's great baked, steamed, or cooked in casseroles.

Buttercup - This green or orange, turban-shaped type has a "button" on the end of the fruit. It has dry, orange flesh and is good in soups and stews.

Spaghetti - This oblong, tan-colored squash has yellow flesh with a stringy texture that resembles spaghetti, especially when topped with tomato sauce.

Pumpkins - Varieties come as small as a baseball to as large as a house (almost). While many varieties are bred for decoration at Halloween, there are some that are best for cooking. For cooking and baking, select varieties with thick, sweet, dry, deeply colored flesh, such as 'Connecticut Field' and 'Small Sugar'.

Harvesting and Storing Squash

Harvest winter squash and pumpkins when the skin turns the ripe color and has hardened so your thumbnail can't puncture the skin when you press on it. Don't let them get touched by frost or they will rot in storage. Harvest blemish-free fruits, leaving a 2-inch-long piece of the stem attached to the fruit.

After harvest let winter squash (all except acorn squash) and pumpkins sit for one to two weeks in a warm (80 degrees F) area. The high temperature during the curing process can reduce the quality and storage life of acorn squash. For all other squash the curing helps toughen the skin. Most winter squash and pumpkins can last two to three months in storage, depending on the type and the storage conditions. Store in a 50- to 55-degree F room out of direct sunlight, ideally without the fruits touching. Periodically check them throughout the winter and discard any rotten fruits.

While there are lots of squash and pumpkin recipes to choose from this time of year, here's one that uses two classic fall crops.

Squash and Apple Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium winter squash (butternut or acorn is best)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup margarine, melted
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts
  • 3 cups sliced apples, peeled if desired

Wash squash, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds, peel, and cut into small chunks. Stir sugar or syrup, margarine, flour, salt, nutmeg, and nuts together. Arrange squash in an ungreased rectangular baking dish. Place apple slices on top. Sprinkle sugar mixture over apples. Cover with foil. Bake in a 350- degree oven for 50 minutes or until squash is tender. Serves 4.

Variation: Bake acorn squash halves at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Fill centers with apples, top with sugar mixture and nuts. Cover with foil and bake about 25 minutes more until squash is tender. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Composting Oak Leaves

Q: I've heard that oak leaves are too acidic to use in my compost pile. Is there anything I can add to my compost to neutralize their acidity?

A: Actually, oak leaves are fine to add to the compost pile. They are acidic, but during the process of decomposition their acidity naturally gets neutralized so the finished compost should end up at a neutral pH. To enhance their decomposition, try shredding the leaves with a shredder or by running them over with the lawn mower a few times before adding them to the pile. Be sure you add nitrogen-rich materials to the pile, such as old vegetable plants, fresh grass clippings, or manure to balance the carbon-rich leaves.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Composting Oak Leaves

Q: I've heard that oak leaves are too acidic to use in my compost pile. Is there anything I can add to my compost to neutralize their acidity?

A: Actually, oak leaves are fine to add to the compost pile. They are acidic, but during the process of decomposition their acidity naturally gets neutralized so the finished compost should end up at a neutral pH. To enhance their decomposition, try shredding the leaves with a shredder or by running them over with the lawn mower a few times before adding them to the pile. Be sure you add nitrogen-rich materials to the pile, such as old vegetable plants, fresh grass clippings, or manure to balance the carbon-rich leaves.

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