Wonderful Winter Squash

Winter Squash is a highly nutritious vegetable that stores easily for up to six months.

| August/September 2005

What if you could grow a vegetable that has a rich, nutty flavor; is packed with nutrition; adapts readily to soups, pilafs and pies; stores easily for up to six months; and even is pretty to look at? This description fits winter squash, which comes in dozens of different packages, with shapes ranging from acorns and turbans to 30-pound pink bananas. North and South American gardeners have been growing them for more than 9,000 years, and indigenous tribes from Argentina to Oregon each cultivated their unique strain, which often rambled among shriveling corn stalks during the second half of summer.

In an odd turn in culinary history, Americans decided to prefer pumpkins to winter squash. Or did we? Several types of winter squash — acorns, buttercups, delicatas and hubbards — are the same species as most pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo or C. maxima), and most canned “pumpkin” in stores actually is cushaw or butternut squash (C. moschata). So, if you like pumpkin pie but think you might not like squash pie, think again. In fact, any recipe that includes pumpkin or sweet potatoes can be easily adapted for winter squash.

A latecomer to the winter squash fan club, I began eating them several years ago after discovering winter squash soup, in which onions, celery and winter squash mingle with apples in a curried broth. Since then, seedlings have been sprouting from my compost heap (and producing lots of squash); clearly this vegetable wants to be a permanent part of my garden.

“That’s why they’re called trailing squash,” says Minnesotan Martin Diffley, who with his wife, Atina, was named the 2004 Organic Farmer of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. “They followed people to new settlements by sprouting and growing in their trash heaps.”

At their Gardens of Eagen farm, the Diffleys grow 16 types of winter squash, which is easier than choosing only one or two. A truly diverse crop, winter squashes come from four different Cucurbita species, which can grow into a huge range of shapes, sizes and colors. See “Sorting Through Winter Squash” later in this article to find out which squash fall into which group and how species differ from one another.

Beautiful Buttercups

There is a perfect winter squash for every climate and palate, but finding one for your area is not a simple quest — unless you are a Midwesterner. “Buttercups have always been the precious ones around here,” Diffley says. After waiting 20 years for an improvement in the old ‘Burgess’ variety, Diffley found ‘Bonbon,’ a 2005 All America Selections (AAS) winner from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and says it’s worth making the switch from open pollinated (OP) to hybrid. “It’s uniform, vigorous and has the same good flavor of ‘Burgess,’ only better.”

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