Growing and Cooking Leeks and Winter Squash

Learn how to grow leeks and winter squash — from butternut and acorn squash types to less common varieties, such as ‘Red Kuri’ and ‘Buttercup’ — and then use them in these recipes.

| December 2014/January 2015

For gardeners who like to feast on their garden’s bounty year-round, winter squash holds a special honor because it doesn’t require a root cellar. A shed in which nothing will freeze or just a cool room in the house will keep squash in great condition for three to six months, depending on the variety. Unlike root cellar crops — such as potatoes, carrots and beets, which demand a high-humidity storage space — squash like the air to be dry, as it often is in our homes in wintertime.

Leeks are another hero crop for winter eating. Related to both garlic and onions, their subtle onion flavor enhances braises and stews, but they are also superb served all by themselves.

Winter Squash, Both Large and Small

Growing winter squash is just like growing summer squash. You can either direct-seed or put out transplants no more than 3 weeks old. Winter squash just takes up a lot more space — most varieties grow on wandering vines that can overwhelm a small garden. They make a terrific ground cover, however, if you direct those vines into a little-used area, shading out nearly all weeds by harvest time. (For more tips on cultivating this crop in your garden, see All About Growing Winter Squash.)

Just be sure to pick squash before your first hard frost and spread them out in a warm, dry place to cure for a few weeks — to harden off their skins for better keepability. Handle them carefully, because nicks and bruises in the skin will shorten their storage life.

You can grow so many wonderful types and varieties of winter squash, beginning with the basic beige butternut, so high in rich, tasty, orange flesh and so low on stringy seeds. It’s the one type I’d grow if I could grow only one, and one might be all you can manage. But some year, try a small acorn or delicata type, both of which I’ve even trained to climb a stout wooden trellis!

‘Buttercup’ and ‘Red Kuri’ are also on the small side, and both are gorgeous. Just for fun, you might try one of the grand old giants, such as ‘Blue Hubbard,’ or the splendid vermillion-colored ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes.’ Also known as ‘Cinderella’ because of its deeply lobed shape, ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes’ isn’t quite big enough to ride in but can easily feed 20 people.

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