Market Fresh Finds: Winter squash adds color, flavor to season

Variety of fruit surpassed only by its many uses

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Winter squash equivalents

1 pound peeled, cubed squash = 3¼ cups

Fall is upon us — and so are the winter squash! These versatile beauties are incomparable in taste, texture, variety and culinary uses.

Winter squash have been grown in the Americas by Native Americans for about 10,000 years as part of a staple diet of beans, corn and squash that could be grown together, providing a nutritious food source throughout the winter. It was introduced by Columbus to Europe, where it became popular throughout the Mediterranean basin.

All varieties of winter squash are low in calories and high in nutrients. One cup of cubed squash averages only 30 calories and is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, B’s and C, folate, iron, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

Winter squash is an annual fruit that represents several squash species. At the farmers market you’ll find the common winter squash varieties that everyone knows: butternut, acorn, delicata, spaghetti squash and sugar pumpkins, along with more unusual varieties including ambercup, autumn Cup, banana, buttercup, carnival, fairytale pumpkin, gold nugget, hubbard, kobocha, sweet dumpling and turban. With the exception of delicata and spaghetti, all of these squashes are interchangeable in recipes. They are delicious roasted or sauteed and in soups, stir-frys, curries, sauces, biscuits, bread and in desserts such as cakes, cookies, puddings and pies. The uses for winter squash are virtually endless. Just use your imagination!

Winter squash is harvested in the mature stage when the fruits have turned a deep, solid color, the seeds have matured fully and the skin is hard. The perfect squash of all varieties feels heavy for its size, has firm skin, and is free from soft spots and cracks. Most winter squash are harvested in September or October and can be stored for use during the winter, depending upon the variety, up to six months.

To store squash, choose a cool pantry, garage or basement that stays in the 50s. Leave space between them as they can rot at a point of contact. Leave some of the stem on and check often; use bruised squash quickly. For long term storage cured squash is best. Most grocery store squash is cured, but check when buying at a farmers market.

Curing is easily done by sitting the squash in the sun for seven to 10 days right after the squash has been picked.

Winter squash is generally cooked before eaten but it also makes a sweet, crunchy raw snack. Most varieties are completely edible including the skin — although it’s commonly not eaten. The mature seeds of winter squash can be roasted, just like pumpkin seeds, and eaten for an amazingly easy, delightful snack.

Winter squash can also be canned, frozen or dehydrated. Freezing is the easiest way to preserve winter squash and the only safe way to preserve mashed squash.

Because it is a low-acid food, canning winter squash requires the use of a pressure canner. However, pressure canning methods based on the most current food safety research are provided only for cubed winter squash. It is easy enough to simply puree winter squash for pie or other recipes when it is removed from the jar.

For additional Winter Squash recipes and serving suggestions, check out Chef Scotty’s Market Fresh Recipes at http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=8163.


Vicki Ivy is a Clark County WSU Extension Master Food Preserver. For additional recipes, food preservation and food safety information visit http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=1134. Have questions? Call MFP Helpline: 360-397-6060 ext. 5366, or join Facebook Discussion Group “WSU Home Food Preservers – Clark County.”