University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Versatile, variety, and nutritious are all adjectives that can be used for
winter squash. Whether you grew your own, or buy them from local
farmers and markets, consider putting some up for winter. With proper
storage of squash, you'll benefit from their fresh flavors for months—often
until next spring-- as well as the nutrition of these vegetables.
Although winter squash has the same calories roughly as potatoes, it has
more than twice the potassium. Winter squash provides various vitamins
such as A, B6 and C, fiber, and minerals that may reduce the risk of certain
cancers. These squash are a good source of anti-inflammatory nutrients
needed for a strong immune system, such as omega 3’s and beta-carotene.
Winter squash store well, such as in a cool room or basement, which stays
around 50 to 55 degrees (F). Acorn squash can store 3 to 4 months,
other winter squashes can last up to 6 months or more.
So just what are winter squash, and all the types you may find?
They’re one of the two major group of squashes, the other being summer
squashes like yellow and zucchini. They’re so named as they’re
harvested later—early fall around the time of first frost—and last well into
and through winter. They’re one of the few vegetables native to North
America, and have been grown as one of the “three sisters” by native peoples
along with corn and beans.
Squashes are in the cucurbit family, related to cucumbers, melons, and
gourds. Among the three main winter squash species, there are at least
a dozen main types you may find.
Acorn are one of the most common winter squashes, medium size with an acorn
shape, ridges, and dull green rind. Acorn squashes that have turned
orange will have tough and fibrous flesh inside. It has a mild flavor,
good for soups, baking, and stuffing.
Buttercup is similar in size to the acorn, only more squat with smooth dark
green rind with some pale streaking. Some varieties may have a small
bump on top, as it is a type of “turban” squash (see below). Its distinctive
circular ridge on the bottom sets it apart from the similar “kabocha” squash
(see below). Cooked, its flesh is mild and somewhat dry.
Butternut is another of the more commonly seen and used winter squashes,
having a distinctive elongated pear shape—long neck and bulbous base-- with
tan rind. The flesh has a sweet and nutty flavor, and is bright
yellow-orange. Similar to the acorn, roast it, mash it, or make into
soup. It’s easier to deal with cutting the neck from the base, and
handling each separately. To remove the hard rind, use a vegetable
peeler once it is roasted.
Carnival squash is a cross between Sweet Dumpling (see below) and acorn
squashes, and is similar in size and shape. It is light in color,
white and yellow, with ridges. Use it similar to acorn or butternut
Delicata is often called a “sweet potato squash” as it has a similar
consistency when cooked, and similarly is sweet but more “earthy”. It
is small, oblong, and pale yellow with green stripes. The thin skin
makes it easily bruised, but also makes it edible. Use as you would a
sweet potato, or simply cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast with
olive oil and salt.
Hubbard is one of the larger squashes, noted for its size, teardrop shape,
blue-gray rind and bumpy surface. It is good roasted, and sometimes is
used as a vegetarian turkey substitute at Thanksgiving. The flesh has
a pumpkin flavor.
Kabocha is a Japanese type of winter squash (this being the generic name for
squash in Japanese), similar to the buttercup in appearance and coming in
green or red. The deep yellow
flesh is flaky but sweet, good roasted or baked with plenty of butter or
Pumpkins are well-known, and come in sizes from tiny decorative ones to the
giant ones you see at fairs and competitions. Keep in mind the ones
for carving generally lack flavor, while the Sugar Pie ones have the sweet,
pumpkin flavor good in pies, soups, or roasted. The squat and colorful
French heirlooms are both sweet and ornamental.
Red Kuri is another Japanese squash, similar to a small Hubbard only
with a red-orange rind and so is sometimes called a red Hubbard. The
yellow flesh has a flavor resembling chestnuts, and is good roasted or the
squash split and stuffed.
Spaghetti squash is light yellow, large, and oblong. Once the flesh is
cooked, run a fork through it to make long “strings” that resemble
spaghetti. In fact it makes a healthy alternative to pasta, with a
mild flavor. This, as well as the Acorn and Delicata are very closely
related to the summer squashes, just different varieties of the same
Sweet Dumpling is one of the parents of Carnival squash, being compact,
whitish-yellow with some green streaks, and pronounced ridges. Its
taste resembles a sweet potato, and its flesh is edible. This could be
used in place of sweet potato or pumpkin in recipes.
Turban is the larger group of which Buttercup is a member, noted for its
pronounced “bump” on top resembling a turban or turk’s cap—another name for
it. Often these are quite colorful and can be used simply for
decoration. Its sweet and mild flesh is good roasted, or in soup, and
its outer rind can be used as the soup tureen.
There are many more types and cultivars of winter squash, including
heirlooms. Experiment with some in this winter’s cooking, and try
growing some from seeds next year.
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