WHAT IS WINTER SQUASH?
Winter squash varieties include pumpkins as well as acorn, butternut, buttercup aka kabocha, spaghetti, and delicata squash. Winter squash isn’t grown in the winter; it’s so named because it can be stored and used throughout the winter months. Summer squash – like zucchini – has thin skin and needs to be used within about a week of being picked. But winter squash has a tough, thick rind and it stores well. Depending on the variety, winter squash may keep for anywhere from one to eight months.
WHEN TO HARVEST?
Letting winter squash ripen on the vine will bring out its sweetness, and typically that means harvesting in the fall. There are a few ways to tell if your squash is ripe and ready to pick.
First, each variety has unique physical characteristics that indicate it’s ripe:
There are a few other clues that help determine ripeness:
WHAT IF IT’S A NOT-QUITE RIPE?
Sometimes we need to pick squash that isn’t quite ripe. It might be growing too large (like my spaghetti squash) or a heavy frost may be forecast. One or two light frosts won’t hurt squash that’s ripe or almost ripe. But if you anticipate heavy frost or consistently low temperatures, it’s best to harvest your squash.
Let squash stay on the vine for as long as possible, even if you do eventually pick it before it’s completely ripe. (Very young squash, particularly those that fail the fingernail test, likely won’t ripen enough to eat and won’t keep well.) The closer harvested squash is to being fully ripe, the better it will taste once it’s ripened, and the longer it will keep. Once picked, let it continue to ripen and cure before using.
CURING WINTER SQUASH
Except for acorn squash, winter squash should be cured before using or storing. To cure, just let harvested squash sit for 10-14 days in a warm location (indoors or out) that has good air circulation. Don’t let the fruit touch each other and don’t stack them. The curing process reduces the water content of squash, which;
STORING WINTER SQUASH
Always harvest winter squash by cutting them from the vines and leaving about two inches of the stem attached. Pulling or twisting the squash off may damage the stem, which can cause rot and shorten the fruit’s shelf life. Rinse the squash clean and remove any bits of blossom that might be stuck on the bottom.
The best candidates for storage are fully ripe, cured and unblemished squash with thick rinds. Place those in a dry, cool location (ideally 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit). Spreading them on a pallet will ensure good air circulation.
Acorn and delicata squash need to be used the soonest, as they have a 5-8 week shelf life. Buttercup and spaghetti squash as well as pumpkins may keep up to 4-6 months. Butternut squash keeps the longest, for up to 8 months.