Can you identify winter squash varieties? You can probably pick out the pumpkins in this photo – but what about the others? Can you identify these colorful winter squash? Which one is your favourite?
Winter squash comes in all shapes, sizes and textures. But they all have a tough outer rind that surrounds sweet yellow to deep orange flesh. They also all contain a seed pocket with large pumpkin like seeds (pepitas) that can be roasted and eaten (a great source of iron). Their hard outer rind is what makes them suitable for storing into the winter months (hence the name).
The flavour and mouth feel of squash varies with variety. The flesh may be fibrous, pebbly or smooth and the taste may be mild, sweet or distinctly nutty. Some have a dry texture (buttercup squash) while others are watery (large pumpkins) and others are very fibrous (spaghetti squash).
Identify Winter Squash Varieties
The varying sizes of squash can accommodate a dinner for two (carnival squash) or a banquet for 50 (hubbard). Try as many varieties as you can and decide which is your favourite!
For a picture and description of different varieties visit The Cook’s Thesaurus.
Nutritional Benefits of Winter Squash
Deep yellow and bright orange vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. And winter squash is one of the tastiest ways to get those colours onto your plate. The colour indicates squash is a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant and something our body converts into Vitamin A. Squash is also a good source of Vitamin C, folate, potassium and fiber. They’re low in calories and can be used as a great alternative to potatoes or pasta. Baked, boiled or mashed, squash has about 40 calories per half cup serving.
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) cooked winter squash (average of all varieties):
|Vitamin C||10 mg|
Source: Leslie Beck, RD “ Winter Squash”. 2010. www.lesliebeck.com
Buying & Selecting Winter Squash
When shopping for winter squash, look for a smooth, dry rind without cracks or soft spots. The rind should be dull, not shiny. A shiny rind indicates the squash was picked before it fully matured and may not be as sweet and flavourful as a mature squash. A deep colour is also a sign of a good winter squash. The squash should feel heavy for its size. The stem should be rounded and dry, not collapsed, blackened or moist. When buying a cut squash, make sure it has a good interior colour and fine-grained flesh.
Harvesting & Curing Winter Squash
Don’t harvest too early! Underripe squash will be less flavorful and won’t store as well. So, if you can, wait and watch for these signs:
- vines are wilted/dry
- rind has toughened (your fingernail shouldn’t leave a dent)
- stem is dry
Harvest before hard frost as frost damage will shorten long term storage.
Cut, don’t rip the stem, leave 3 inches of stem to reduce risk of rot in the fruit
Cure squash to harden the rind so it will keep for as long as possible.
Rub off dirt and debris, but don’t wash.
Lay out in a warm, well ventilated area (an elevated screen is ideal) for 7-10 days. It can be a sunny, outdoor space or a warm, sunny indoor space.
Once the stem is totally dry and the rind feels tough and dry it’s ready to store.
Storing Winter Squash
Uncut winter squash can be stored at room temperature for one month and up to three months or more in a cool, dry place. It is best not to store winter squash in the fridge, or below 10°C (50°F), as this will cause the squash to deteriorate more quickly. Cut squash or cooked squash should be stored in the refrigerator, for no more than a week.
Not all squash store for the same length of time. The thinner the skin, the shorter the storing period. Here’s a general rule of thumb.
Acorn, Delicata & Spaghetti Squash – are best if used within 2 months
Pumpkins and pie pumpkins – are best if used within 2 months
Small Hubbard and small Kabocha like Red Kuri, Sunshine and Baby Blue – are best if used within 3 months
Butternut, Hubbard, Buttercup and Kabocha– will last the longest, up to 6 months
Find More Winter Squash Articles
More squash goodness for you to consider:
- How to Cook Winter Squash
- How to Cut Squash Safely and Easily
- A Collection of Winter Squash Recipes
- How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin/Squash Puree
- How to Roast Pumpkin/Squash Seeds
- How to Roast Delicata Squash
- How to Cut, Peel and Roast Butternut Squash
- How to Cut, Cook and Use Spaghetti Squash
- Video: Roasted Delicata
- Video: How to Cut, Peel & Cube Butternut Squash
- Video: 4 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash
- Video: How to Make Crispy Spaghetti Squash Pancakes
Thank you to the work of the Public Health Nutritionists of Saskatchewan from previously published articles on winter squash on homefamily.net. In particular, thanks to Donna Nelson, Cathy Knox, Barb Wright, Heather Torrie, Dorothy Lang, Marilee Hornung and Sheri Taylor. Their work helped create the foundation of this article.
Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist, speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of several recipe books on enjoying and preserving fruit, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener. Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this.