How to Identify, Harvest and Store Pumpkins and other Winter Squash

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?
Pumpkins and Squash

Also Read: How to Cut Squash, How to Cook Squash, Favourite Winter Squash Recipes

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!
Buttercup Butternut Hubbard
Kabocha Carnival Pumpkin
Spaghetti Delicata Acorn

For a picture and description of different varieties visit The Cook’s Thesaurus.

winter squash identified

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):

Calories  
40 kcal
 Fat 
0.4 g
 Protein 
1 g
 Carbohydrate 
10 g
 Fibre
2 g
 Potassium 
473 mg
 Manganese
0.2 mg
 Copper 
0.09 mg
 Folate 
22 ug
 Vitamin C
10 mg
 Beta-carotene 
3025 mcg
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.

variety of squash in leaves

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

Curing Squash

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:

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.

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