Winter squash, pumpkins, ornamental gourds, and summer squash are all members of the cucurbitaceae genus. Perhaps the most well known is the common pumpkin used as a fall decoration. Available in various sizes and colors, (for example; the white “ghost" pumpkin), it is the right choice if you want to make a jack o lantern or a decorative soup tureen. But if it is eating that you are interested in, there are a multitude of winter squashes with a wide range of colors, shapes, and flavors to choose from.
Unlike summer squash, winter squash is harvested in the fall when the skin of the fruit is hard and the seeds inside the plant have matured. This hardening of the exterior skin of the fruit enables it to be stored for several months in a cool dry environment. Winter squash is a terrific source of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A. It contains potassium, niacin, vitamin C ,and fiber, has no fat or cholesterol, and is low in calories. Plus, it is easy to prepare, and delicious when roasted at a high heat because the natural sugars caramelize.
There are hundreds of different types and varieties of winter squash. Not only do they vary in sweetness, but the color of the flesh can range from light yellow to deep red/orange, and the texture from fibrous, to smooth and creamy. I find one of the most appealing characteristics of the winter squash is the varied colors and appearance: yellows, blues, oranges, greens, stripes, bumps, knobs, ridges, round oblong, tapered, the list goes on and on. In addition to the more “traditional” squashes such as butternut and acorn, there are also many new varieties and heirlooms that have become available during the past few years. Listed below are some winter squashes you can look for at your local farmer’s market, store, or farm stand.
Butternut – one of the most available and versatile of the winter squashes. It has a smooth texture and mild, sweet taste, making it amenable to using a variety of spices, and flavorings. Many consider this to be the best squash for pumpkin pie and soup. It is hard to peel and cut, but well worth the effort.
Red Kuri pumpkin – is a hubbard-like squash that can have a teardrop or a small pumpkin shape. It has smooth, creamy flesh, and a mild nutty flavor. Its small size also makes it easy for cutting in half and roasting.
Hubbard Squash – one of the largest, with a thick skin that helps it store well, but make it difficult to cut. Medium sweet, with yellow flesh, it is best roasted.
Rouge Vif d’Etampes – bright red/ orange exterior and flesh. This is an old French heirloom, also known as the Cinderella pumpkin, as it resembles the pumpkin used by the fairy godmother to create a carriage. It has a sweet smooth flesh, and is another variety good for pies.
Kobacha – a green, round Japanese squash, round with a dense, sweet flesh and a smooth texture.
Carnival – is a hybrid of sweet dumpling and acorn squash. Flesh is pale orange, and can be a bit stringy. Best roasted, baked or stuffed.
Red Warty Thing – large heirloom with smooth, sweet flesh. Its large, warty appearing bumps make it useful as a decoration (prior to eating)
Turk’s Turban – a buttercup type heirloom; also called Aladdin’s Turban. Distinctive white turban makes it attractive as a fall decoration. It is not as flavorful as other squashes and it usually best baked or stuffed
Most local farmer’s markets and farm stands will remain open through Thanksgiving. Look for the winter squashes, and consider bringing a few different ones home to try. Remember that most store quite well. If you find some varieties you like, purchase several and store them in a cool dry place to enjoy throughout the winter. If you are uncertain how to prepare the squash, a quick Internet search will yield numerous recipes. And, don’t scoop those seeds into the garbage or compost bin! Rinse them, toss with some oil and seasonings, and roast for an additional treat.
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