Winter squash include pumpkins and acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash. These members of the (Cucurbitaceae) family vary in shape, color, size, and ﬂavor, but they do share some common characteristics. Their shells are hard and difﬁcult to pierce, enabling them to have long storage periods of one to six months. Their ﬂesh is mildly sweet in ﬂavor and ﬁnely grained in texture. Additionally, all have seed-containing hollow inner cavities.
Varieties of winter squash include:
- Acorn squash: This squash has harvest green skin speckled with orange patches, and pale yellow-orange ﬂesh. It has a very unique sweet, nutty, and peppery ﬂavor.
- Butternut squash: Shaped like a large pear, this squash has cream-colored skin, deep orange-colored ﬂesh, and a sweet ﬂavor.
- Hubbard squash: A larger-sized squash that can be dark green, grey—blue, or orange-red in color, the Hubbard’s ﬂavor is less sweet than many other varieties’.
- Pumpkins: Small sugar pumpkins are the culinary variety, weighing only a few pounds, as opposed to the larger varieties used to carve jack-o’-lanterns.
- spaghetti squash: A larger-sized, yellow squash with light colored ﬂesh that pulls away in strands resembling spaghetti when cooked.
- Turban squash: Green in color and either speckled or striped, this squash has an orange-yellow ﬂesh whose taste is reminiscent of hazelnuts.
Native to Central America, squash has been consumed for more than 10,000 years. Squash was ﬁrst cultivated speciﬁcally for its seeds, since early squash did not contain much ﬂesh and what it did contain was very bitter and unpalatable. Over time, the cultivation of squash spread throughout both North and South America.
Cultivation led to the development of varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting ﬂesh. Early explorers to the Western Hemisphere, including Christopher Columbus, brought squash back to Europe, where it was subsequently extensively cultivated. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.
Pumpkin Nutritional Highlights
Winter squash, like other richly colored vegetables, are excellent sources of carotene—the richer the color, the richer the concentration. They are also a very good source of vitamins C and B 1, folic acid, pantothenic acid, potassium, and dietary ﬁber. In addition, winter squash is a good source of vitamin B 6 and niacin.
Pumpkin Health Benefits
Winter squash, especially the darker—ﬂeshed varieties such as pumpkin and acorn, provide exceptional amounts of carotene. Like other carotene-rich vegetables, winter squash have been shown to exert a protective effect against many cancers, particularly lung cancer. In addition to cancer and heart disease, diets rich in carotene also appear to offer protection against developing type 2 diabetes, with pumpkin consumption being the most protective.
Pumpkin seeds have also been shown to be helpful in reducing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
How To Select And Store Pumpkin
Winter squash is prone to decaying easily, so it is important to inspect it carefully before purchase. Choose winter squash that are ﬁrm, heavy for their size, and have dull, not glossy, rinds. The rind should be hard, as a soft rind may indicate that the squash is watery and lacking in ﬂavor. Avoid those with any signs of decay, which will manifest in spots that are water-soaked or mouldy.
Winter squash has a much longer storage life than summer squash. Depending upon the variety, it can be kept for between one and six months. It should be kept away from direct exposure to light and should not be subject to extreme heat or extreme cold. The ideal temperature for storing winter squash is between 50 and 60 degrees F/ 10 to 16 degrees C.
Once it is cut, cover the pieces of winter squash in cling ﬁlm and store them in the refrigerator, where they will keep for one to two days. The best way to freeze winter squash is to ﬁrst cut it into pieces of suitable size for individual recipes. Cooked winter squash will keep for three to ﬁve days refrigerated.
Tips For Preparing Pumpkin
Wash winter squash thoroughly under cold running water with a vegetable brush. If it has been waxed or is not organically grown, you will need to soak the squash in cold water with a mild solution of additive-free soap or use a produce wash and then gently scrub with a vegetable brush and rinse. After washing winter squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds and ﬁbrous material in the cavity. Depending upon the recipe preparation, you can use the winter squash either peeled or unpeeled.
Quick Serving Ideas for Pumpkin
- To cook halved squash, pierce it in several locations with a knife to allow any steam to escape, and then bake in a 350 degree F/180 degree C./gas 4 oven for 45 minutes to one hour, until a knife can be easily inserted near the stem. Top with a little butter and maple syrup or brown sugar.
- Spaghetti squash is often prepared as a substitute for spaghetti by baking or steaming it until the rind softens, usually 30 to 45 minutes; then it is cut in half lengthwise and the spaghetti strands are removed. You can top the “strings” of spaghetti squash with pasta sauce.
- Pumpkin and other varieties of winter squash, such as acorn and butternut, are often mashed like potatoes and either eaten as such or used in bread, cake, mufﬁn, and pie recipes.
- Top puréed, cooked winter squash with cinnamon and honey.
- Combine pureed, cooked winter squash with stewed apple and serve alone as a pudding-like dessert, or as a topping for pancakes, wafﬂes, and oatmeal.
- Steam cubes of winter squash for ﬁve minutes, and then dress with olive oil, tamari, ginger, and pumpkin seeds.
- Add cubes of winter squash to your favorite vegetable soup recipe.
Winter squash is not associated with any safety, issues.