Pumpkins are all winter squashes. And botanically, all winter squashes are pumpkins, though we tend to think of them as quite different. They come in many different colors, sizes, and shapes. There are hundreds of varieties of winter squash, most in the cucurbita moschata and C. maxima groups.
Though winter squash flavor can vary across different types, most fall into sweet, nutty, earthy, and rich or mild flavors. Some are softer than others, and some are sweeter. Butternut is one of the sweetest, while spaghetti squash is not sweet at all.
The flavors of squashes pair well with both savory and sweet dishes. Winter squashes keep well, sometimes all winter, so it is worth learning more about how to prepare and enjoy different varieties.
Buying squashes is easy at the winter farmers markets. Look for those that aren’t bruised and have a hard rind that you can’t scratch with your fingernail. If there is a lighter patch on the squash, it should be yellow or orange rather than green.
Winter squashes are great for baking, roasting, sauteing and even microwaving. They take a bit of prep work, but usually come with a bonus of edible seeds as well. Sometimes the skin is edible, sometimes it takes work to remove the skin.
With the large variety of squashes available, you should be able to find at least one that you like. I encourage you to try them all!
Growing Winter Squash
Winter squash is a crop that grows all summer into fall that stores well in winter. Like summer squash and zucchini, they grow on sprawling vines. Unlike summer squash, they are cured in the field, have a hard rind, and last a lot longer than summer squash.
Winter squash are easy to grow, but need space. Squash vine borers are a pest in Maryland, but if you have trouble with them, try growing different varieties, as vine borers prefer hubbard over butternut, for example.
You will see squash at the farmers markets all winter. If you don’t have a winter market near by, you can always pick up extra winter squash in the fall and keep them at home for later use.
Types of Winter Squash
There are hundreds of winter squash varieties out there. You’ll see acorn, hubbard, butternut, spaghetti, sugar pumpkins, and others that won’t fit into any category.
Butternut is considered the sweetest winter squash. It is a long variety with a bulb at the end with a smooth tan skin that is easy to peel. It has few seeds. The flesh is orange and creamy, delicious roasted, put in soups, and as a puree.
Acorn squash is smaller and shaped like a big acorn. You’ll see lots of color variation on the rind. It has orange-yellow flesh and has a mild and slightly sweet flavor. You can eat the skin.
Spaghetti squash is not sweet, nor is it really like spaghetti. That said, if you cut it in half and roast it, once cooked the flesh will come away in spaghetti like strands. It is delicious, but it isn’t spaghetti. You can use it like pasta but it will taste different.
There will be other varieties to try at the markets. Ask your farmer about what they sell and how to prepare it. Some may be stringier, some have edible skin. In general, roasting them up and tasting afterwards will tell you whether to use them in a sweet dish or a savory soup. Or both!
Preserving Winter Squash
Preserving winter squash is dead easy. They like it around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and low humidity. In climate controlled homes it might be harder to find cool spots, but if you look around you might be surprised.
Even if you don’t find a 50F spot, the cooler and drier conditions of most homes in winter will help properly cured winter squash last a few months. Keep squash from touching hard surfaces or each other, and check them regularly to look for soft spots.
Some squash will last longer than others. Acorn and spaghettis don’t last as long. Hubbards can last 3 to 6 months!
You can pressure can winter squash if you need to. Freezing chunks of squash is the easiest way to store them longer. You can dry squash, but do not pickle and water bath can it.
Winter Squash Recipes
Soups are so good on a cold winter day. There are many pureed squash soups out there, one recipe I enjoy is Quick and Easy Stovetop Butternut Squash Soup.
Soups are fantastic with homemade bread (or bought from the farmers market!). Still, there are plenty of other types of recipes out there to use winter squash!
Don’t waste any seeds you find in your winter squash. Roasting winter squash seeds can give you a crunchy snack or great addition to salads or to top soups. I found their recommendation to boil the seeds in salted water made really good roasted squash seeds.
Winter Squash Trivia
Winter Squash originated from Central America. There is evidence that winter squash cultivation going back to at least 8,000 BC.
Most of the winter squash plant can be eaten, including leaves, flowers, seeds and fruit.
Winter squash is a great long lasting option to add to your winter recipes. Use it in sweet and savory dishes. It offers a great texture to many meals, as well as a delicious flavor that can be enhanced with spices.
Use winter squash for fall and winter recipes when summer vegetables are long gone. It is inexpensive, delicious, nutritious, and lasts forever.