Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Inspired by a pie pumpkin, I made all things pumpkin!

All Things Pumpkins

I'm having a love affair with pumpkins. Autumn brings just the right kind of weather to leave the oven on to bake the fruits of fall, savory winter squash (and that includes pumpkins). The aroma that drifts through the house will make even the pickiest eater hungry. Best of all, you can purchase all types now and they will keep all winter under the right conditions.

How to Cook
All it takes to bake most winter squash is to cut them in half, remove the seeds and invert them on a cookie sheet. Then bake them for an hour or so at 350 degrees and serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup or even stuffed with wild rice or apples and cranberries.

Harvest at the Correct Time
Winter squash begins ripening in August and continues into October. Although most winter squash can be harvested when young and used like zucchini, the point to growing winter squash is usually to keep them over the winter. Winter squash are ready for harvest when the rind is hard enough so that you cannot make a dent in it with your fingernail. By the time the first frost arrives, the squash should all be ready to harvest.

Prepare for Storage
To control fungal problems in storage, I wash my squash well and then dip them in a mixture of one part bleach to six parts water, making sure I get the stem end. I then store them on wire racks in the basement. Squash should ideally be stored at 50 to 55 degrees, but my basement is somewhat warmer than that. I still have fairly good luck in keeping them, and just have to check them periodically for rotting.

Pumpkins are the king of winter squash. We usually connect them with Halloween because of the jack-o-lantern, but they are also really tasty to eat. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you've ever tasted, and pumpkin is also very good when baked and mashed like potatoes.

Acorn Squash
I grew up eating acorn squash, the baseball-sized, green ribbed squash available year-round in the grocery stores. I've since discovered Delicata squash, the oblong creamy to yellow squash with dark green stripes. They are undoubtedly the sweetest squash I've ever eaten, so I've started growing my own. These don't keep quite as long as some of the other winter squashes. They have rich orange flesh like a butternut, but are infinitely sweeter. Everyone I've served them to says they'll never eat another acorn squash.

Many Other Varieties
There are hundreds of types of winter squash out there, from buttercup and blue hubbard to spaghetti and butternut squash. All are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe for pumpkin. Spaghetti squash is a little different in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands that really do resemble spaghetti. The "spaghetti" is delicious with a little butter and parmesan, or serve it with spaghetti sauce for "pasta" without the calories of wheat spaghetti.

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