Cooking Winter Squash

The old reliable soup may be your favorite way of cooking winter squash, but there's lots more to do with the vegetable's many varieties.

| October/November 1994

With a burst of fall color and frost on the pumpkins, the Vassal household buttons down for fall. Charlie Brown will once again await the arrival of the “Great Pumpkin,” and children will be carving their large orange prey and roasting the seeds. I’ll be taking the annual bus ride with young students to a rural pumpkin patch to discover that, yep, pumpkins really do grow on large vines. And anyone with a garden filled with squash under those vines will be looking for creative ways to get rid of them other than carving them for Halloween.

Fortunately, stews, soups, breads, muffins, pancakes and — of course — pies are all viable options for the homesteader or homemaker intent on cooking winter squash. Most squash will keep in a cool place for months, so there’s no hurry to bake those pies yet. Cooked, puréed and poured into plastic containers, the squash will store well in the freezer. The nutritious squash contains the cancer-preventing beta-carotene (which converts into vitamin A), potassium, fiber and no fat. So don’t let that 5-pound pumpkin intimidate you. Go ahead and bake it, but don’t forget to save those pumpkin seeds for nutritious nibbling.

Selecting and Storing Squash  

Look for firm, heavy squash without moldy spots or cracks. The rind should be dull; shininess means it’s immature. Check to see that the stem isn’t collapsed, moist or blackened. Most squash can be stored in a cool place such as a garage or root cellar where the temperature is between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four months. Pumpkin and spaghetti squash will keep for one to two months. If the temperature is below 45 degrees (such as in a refrigerator) or above 60 degrees, it will cause the squash to deteriorate more rapidly. A cut squash can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for about a week.

Squash Varieties  

Pumpkin: Large jack-o’-lantern varieties are usually too stringy to eat. A smaller, sweeter variety, such as sugar pumpkins, are better for pies and baking. Most people use canned pumpkin for pies, which is convenient but not as flavorful or nutritious.

Acorn: A small squash with dark green, ribbed skin, it gets its name from its acorn shape. The flesh is yellow to light orange with a mild flavor.

Buttercup: A turban-like shape at the blossom end and faint stripes on its dark green surface identify this squash. The orange flesh is drier and more flavorful than other squash, which makes it my favorite for baking and eating.

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