The wonders of winter squash
It’s a shame that more people don’t plant winter squash. They produce bountiful crops that can provide us healthy garden fruit far into the winter months. Winter squashes are part of the genus Cucurbita, a family of herbaceous vines in the gourd, squash and pumpkin family. There are several varieties available to grow, and each has its attributes for the epicurious, but all make for fabulous and hearty meals.
Why don’t people plant squash? Often it’s because they lack the room in their gardens, have planted too many squash plants in years past or have no idea what to do with these healthy fruits. The secret is to grow them in moderation (one plant should do a family), and allow them to harden off properly which will allow you to keep them for several months (two to six) in the pantry.
Most squashes have a mild sweet or nutty flavour which makes them easy to incorporate in all kinds of dishes but best of all they are naturally low in fat and calories. Most are rich in several vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B6, C, magnesium and potassium.
Tips for growing squash
The beauty with squash is that you can grow them easily from seed. Put two or three seeds in a low mounded seed hole. Once seedlings develop, select the strongest and thin out the rest. Plants prefer full sunlight and well-drained soil but will tolerate light shade.
If you lack space, try growing one of the bush varieties versus the vining ones. One example of a bush variety is ‘Gold Nugget’ buttercup squash. If you do have space, many of the best tasting varieties of squash are vining but they require a four-by-six-foot space to grow. To avoid having it take over your garden, continuously cut back the vines as they reach outwards, making sure to keep those that are producing fruit. Remove any misshapen fruit or fruit that has started to rot to maintain the health of your plant. Trimming will allow the fruit that is growing to develop more fully.
Winter squash develops a deeper skin colour as it matures. The skin will get harder and should resist punctur- ing by fingernails when ripe. Winter squash are harvested when they are fully mature, unlike summer squash varieties. Squash will be one of the last crops harvested in the fall when the cold weather sets in. They should be cut from the vines with their stems attached. If the stems do come off, use these fruits first as they will be prone to rotting sooner than the others.
You should cure your winter squash and pumpkins to harden their shells completely before storing them. Curing is quite easy to do. Place squash in a warm area for a week or two at 24 C to 29 C, or put them in a root cellar with a small portable fan blowing directly on them 24 hours a day for a week to help harden off the skins. Once cured, squash are best kept in a cool, dry and dark spot with low humidity. Check them regularly for signs of mold or softening and remove the ones that are starting to turn. You can salvage those by cutting the skin and soft parts off, blanching and freezing the inside flesh.
There are many fancy recipes on the Internet that will provide you with a diverse range of uses for your winter squash, however, sometimes simple is best.
Smaller squashes can be cut in half, seeded and baked in their skins. Add butter and some brown sugar to the centre and enjoy eating it right out of the shell. You can also try using spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg and substitute honey or maple syrup for sugar.
Larger squashes are best peeled, cubed and steamed or baked. They can be frozen in cubes or mashed, and used in a variety of recipes. Squash is excellent in pies, soups, cookies and baking.
Spaghetti squash can be baked whole or seeded and cut in half. Once the skin is fork tender, remove and cool the squash slightly. Remove any seeds and begin to pull away the flesh with a fork, fluffing it on a plate. You can use it as a substitute for pasta, or just add some parmesan, butter and salt and enjoy.
9 types of tasty winter squash Acorn: Dark green or white skin covers this acorn-shaped and ribbed squash. Its pale yellow flesh is mildly flavoured. Acorn is a smaller winter squash that should be eaten before it turns orange in colour which will make it more fibrous.
Delicata: Delicata is a thin-skinned oblong green and yellow striped squash. Its flesh is pale yellow and it resembles summer squash more than winter varieties. The delicata flesh is creamy and soft, and the skin can be eaten, however, as the skin is thinner it is more susceptible to rot.
Sweet Dumpling Squash: This small squash has a whitish-yellow and green exterior. It is large enough to serve one person and has a sweet flavour and edible skin. It’s unique colouring also make it a lovely fall ornament, just be sure to eat it after.
Spaghetti: This is a mild tasting, yellow, stringy fleshed squash that is a perfect substitute for pasta. While it may look like every other squash raw, once cooked the flesh breaks into string like fibers similar to spaghetti. Fruits are oblong and can be white, tan-coloured, yellow or orange.
Turban: These are true beauties of the squash world and named after their turban-like shape with a button on the end. A colourful squash with mottled colours of green, orange and white, turban squash makes a great fall decoration. It has mildly flavoured flesh that is adaptable to any squash recipe. The shell makes for an attractive bowl to serve fall soups or other fall delights. Most common varieties are “Turk’s turban” or “French turban.”
Hubbard: Hubbards are large, bumpy, oval-shaped squash, the most common is the blue hubbard which is an odd shade of gray-blue. Some varieties can get quite large. The sweet tasting flesh is dry yellow or orange.
Kuri: This red hubbard has a similar lopsided look as all hubbard's do. It resembles a kabocha, but the circular bottom will confirm it is a hubbard, it may even develop a ridge, or turban, around a more noticeable bump.
Kabocha: “Buttercup” is one of the most popular varieties of kabocha right now and is readily available in grocery stores. It is easily recognizable from its squat green shape. The inside is sweet and dry with a nutty flavour; it is excellent for cooking. Red kabocha squash is sweeter than its green counterpart and has faint white stripes over its deep reddish-orange flesh.
Butternut: This bottle-shaped, tancoloured squash is probably one of the most recognized of the winter squash. It has a sweet flavour and is used in many recipes.
Cushaw squash: Also known as the winter crookneck squash due to its curved top, it is easily substituted into any squash recipe.
Red Kuri squash.
Sweet Dumpling Squash.
Blue hubbard squash.