Squash Baking Secrets

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Photo courtesy Rosiland Creasy
Baking squash is a great way to make a delicious treat.

Squash Baking Secrets

Whether you grow your own winter squashes or buy them at a local farmer’s market, there is no shortage of great ways to cook them. Martin and Atina Diffley cut most winter squash in half, place the halves cut side down in a roasting pan and bake at 375 degrees for an hour. “Be sure to flip them over during the last 10 to 15 minutes to caramelize the sugars,” Martin says. And, if you’re baking one squash, go ahead and bake six more, even if they are not of the same type. “Scoop out the cooked flesh, mix it together and freeze it. You’ll get a blend of flavors, the same way you would if you were making apple cider,” he says.

If you are cooking large squashes, cut them into serving-sized pieces before baking. Renee Shepherd, owner of Renee’s Garden Seeds, suggests roasting big chunks until they are almost done, and then coating them with a little honey and rosemary before returning them to the oven for a final glaze.

You also can cook 1-inch chunks in a pot with a little water for about 20 minutes if you need mashed squash for pies, but don’t overcook cubes that are destined for stews, casseroles or risotto. Ellen Ecker Ogden, co-founder of Cook’s Garden, likes to cook bite-sized chunks of winter squash with braised onions, season the mixture with curry, turmeric and other Indian spices, and then add coconut milk before serving the stew over rice. Rose Marie Nichols McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Nursery, suggests seasoning winter squash and mushroom pilaf or risotto with a little sage and serving it hot with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

And let’s not forget pumpkin (er, squash) custard pie. With so many fine recipes to choose from, it’s easy to get hooked on winter squash.

Sorting Through Winter Squash

Cucurbita maxima: 

Includes buttercups, bananas, hubbards, kabochas and some pumpkins
Days to maturity: 95 to 105
Appearance: Tremendous variation in size and rind color; from 4 to 40 pounds
Flavor: Dense, smooth, rich-flavored flesh becomes sweeter in storage, often with nutty undertones; great for pies
Nutrition: More protein than other winter squash; high in vitamins A and C
Pest/disease tolerance: Attractive to squash vine borers, but the plants compensate for damage by developing supplemental roots where vines touch the ground; susceptible to powdery mildew
Storage: Up to five months
Good varieties: ‘Burgess Buttercup’ (OP), ‘Sweet Meat’ (OP), ‘BonBon’ (H), ‘Potimarron’ (OP)

Cucurbita mixta: 

Includes cushaws and Mexican and South American heirlooms
Days to maturity: 90 to 120
Appearance: Pear- and club-shaped fruits, as well as rounded pumpkins; often weighing 10 to 20 pounds
Flavor: Smooth and creamy, becoming sweeter in storage; seeds good for roasting
Nutrition: High in vitamins A and C; seeds high in protein
Pest/disease tolerance: Not preferred by squash vine borers; some tolerance of powdery mildew; best grown where summers are long and warm
Storage: Up to four months
Good varieties: ‘Orange Cushaw’ (OP), ‘Fortna White’ pumpkin (OP), ‘Pueblo Indian’ (OP),‘Tequila Black’ (OP)

Cucurbita moschata: 

Includes butternuts, “cheese” pumpkins, ‘Tahitian’ and many Japanese heirlooms
Days to maturity: 80 to 100
Appearance: Tan, green or striped skin; shapes include bulbs, clubs, pears and flattened pumpkins; from 3 to 12 pounds
Flavor: Dense orange flesh becomes smooth when cooked; often quite sweet with fruity or nutty flavor overtones; can be eaten immature as summer squash
Nutrition: Extremely high in vitamin A
Pest/disease tolerance: Excellent; highly resistant to squash vine borers, some resistance to powdery mildew
Storage: Up to six months under ideal conditions
Good varieties: ‘JWS 6823 PMR’ (H), ‘Tahitian’ (OP), ‘Futsu Black’ (OP)

Cucurbita pepo: 

Includes acorns, delicatas, spaghetti squash and all summer squash
Days to maturity: 85 to 100
Appearance: Huge range of colors and forms, including many with 2-pound fruits.
Flavor: Generally milder than other winter squash; good size for stuffing; can be eaten immature as summer squash
Nutrition: More vitamin C and potassium than other winter squash, less vitamin A
Pest/disease tolerance: Attractive to squash vine borers and squash bugs; compact varieties can be grown under row covers; several are resistant to powdery mildew
Storage: Up to four months for acorns; two months for delicatas and spaghetti squash
Good varieties: ‘Sweet REBA’ (OP), ‘PMR Bush Delicata’ (OP), ‘Spaghetti’ (OP)

Stick It to Borers

The nemesis of squash lovers is squash vine borers (Melittia cucurbitae). They girdle squash stems from the inside out and radically shorten the plants’ life spans. Here are seven creative ways to control them:

Grow a moschata or mixta variety. Squash vine borers leave them alone.

Use row covers to delay infestation.

Inject Bt or beneficial nematodes into the stems. Studies have shown that nematodes remain active inside the stems for two weeks or more. Supplies for trying either method are available from Gardens Alive.

Surgically remove borers. Use a small knife to make a slit where you think borers are feeding, and fish them out with forceps or tweezers. Then cover the slit stem with moist soil.

Trap them. Large yellow pails filled with soapy water placed among your squash may attract the egg-laying adults (which are moths that look like wasps, shown above). Theoretically, they fall in and drown.

Strip off the eggs. Some folks wrap the bases of squash stems with aluminum foil or cloth to deter egg-laying adults. Later, should eggs appear farther up the stem, they can be stripped off with duct tape.

Skewer the borers at night. Inspect stems using a strong flashlight, and stick straight sewing pins in where you see the shadows of feeding borers. Repeat every few days, moving the pins to new victims. 


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
2278 Baker Creek Road
Mansfield, MO 65704

Johnny’s Selected Seeds
955 Benton Ave.
Winslow, ME 04901

Seeds of Change
P.O. Box 15700
Santa Fe, NM 89572

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
P.O. Box 460
Mineral, VA 23117

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