Is it true that winter squashes make the most delicious pies?
If you answered true to the previous question, you probably love squash, and there’s a good chance you have some giant fruits growing in your garden.
Perhaps you dream of growing hundreds of squashes, or of being the gardener with the prize-winning squash. Either way, growing squashes is a fruitful ambition!
I thought that winter squash was the term for squash that grew during the winter.
I was surprised to learn that winter squash takes three or four months to mature.
There are four types of squash that grow in the summer and can be stored through the winter- Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita mixta, and Cucurbita pepo.
You can cook and eat butternut squash as soon as you buy them, or you can save them for two to six months. Roasting the squash brings out its natural sweetness, making it a perfect Autumn treat.
It only takes a little more effort to cure winter squash than it does to harvest them, and it’s definitely worth doing.
First, what’s the difference between winter squash and summer squash?
The winter squash are a type of squash that includes pumpkins, gourds, and tough-skinned varieties. You might find them in a fall cornucopia.
There are many types of winter squash, such as spaghetti, butternut, kabocha, turban, Black Futsu, pie pumpkins, and the creepy-looking ones that are often used for Halloween decorations.
To eat winter squash, first the hard shells need to be separated from the flesh. The exception to this is acorn and delicata squash, whose skins are soft and edible.
Summer squash, on the other hand, has skins that are tender and full of flavor.
This is a list of types of summer squash: zucchini, yellow crookneck, zephyr, cousa, pattypan, and chayote squash. Summer squash are ready to be harvested as soon as they are one inch long, and it is not uncommon to eat summer squash that still has blossoms attached.
Then there are squash that can fall into either category, depending on when they’re picked.
There are two common varieties of squash that can be harvested as summer squash and cooked the same way you’d cook zucchini – zucchino rampicante (also called tromboncino squash or zuchetta) and tatuma (tatume) squash.
At the end of summer, pumpkins can be left to mature, after which they can be cured and stored like winter squash. However, because their skins have hardened, they must be prepared like butternut squash at this stage.
Winter squashes to grow in your garden
Winter squashes are harvested later in the season than summer squashes.
This plant has a long growth cycle, taking 80-110 days to mature. This makes it a long-season plant, requiring a great deal of commitment from the gardener.
If you’re worried about growing winter squashes, don’t be. It’s definitely worth the work, because you can keep them for almost the entire winter if your storage space is good enough.
Winter squashes will be ready to harvest when their skin has turned hard.
The key to harvesting is to wait as long as possible in September and October, making sure to always harvest before the first frost.
Use a knife or pruners to cut the stem, leaving an inch or two on the squash. Cut, don’t rip, as it can easily break into the squash, making it more perishable.
Winter squashes come in all shapes and colors:
- Acorn squash
- Banana squash
- Butternut squash
- Delicate squash
- Hubbard squash
- Spaghetti squash
Make sure you know what you are planting from the beginning so squashes don’t take over the garden. Some winter squashes can get really big, up to 40lbs, and a few feet in diameter. Make sure they have plenty of space to grow and enough mulch to protect them!
Do you have to cure winter squash?
You can eat winter squash at any stage of growth, but it won’t be as sweet if it’s not fully ripe.
If you want your winter squash to last, you should refrigerate it soon after you harvest it. Immature squash won’t be able to be stored for very long.
How to cure winter squash for storage
For long-term storage of squash, harvest them with stems intact.
Look for cuts and bruises on the squash. If there are any, the squash will turn moldy quickly, so it’s best to eat them right away or store them in a way that they will be used first.
Remove your winter squash from the plant, leaving at least 3 inches of stem.
When holding a fruit, it is best to avoid holding it by the stem. The stem is the part of the fruit that is most susceptible to rot and disease. Instead, hold the fruit from the bottom for the best results.
Despite their burly appearance, winter squash are delicate and require special care to prevent them from spoiling. Be gentle with them while their skins continue to toughen and the sun heals any cuts or cracks that could lead to rotting later.
The skin of squash may develop superficial spots where the squash rested on the ground while growing. These spots are merely discolorations and have no effect on the flesh underneath.
A few surface marks generally don’t mean anything, but those are the squash that you should eventually eat first.
This is also true for squash that may be bruised or broken; they will not last long. Keep in mind that any small damage will only get worse over time and may also affect the quality of the other squash in the same area.
Harvest your squash and lay them out in a warm, well-ventilated area where the temperature is around 80°F to 85°F.
If it looks like it might rain, bring your plants inside to a dry, warm spot like an attic near a sunny window, a sunroom, a greenhouse, or even a sunny windowsill. But don’t forget about them!
Curing is a process that helps remove excess moisture from an object, typically by promoting evaporation.
The result of this process is that the natural sugars in the squash become more concentrated as the skin becomes tougher. The tough outer layer helps to preserve the squash as temperatures drop, just as it slows respiration.
As you move the squashes from the garden to the storage space, you’ll want to provide a dry area for them to cure. This could be on the porch, in a greenhouse, under an awning, or anywhere else that is protected from rain.
If you’re growing your plants indoors, be sure to rotate them daily so each plant gets an equal amount of sunlight. If they’re sitting on a mesh frame, there’s no need to intervene. Allow them to sit for 10-14 days until they’re “hardened off.”
In our experience, it is best to brush any clumps of dirt off the skin, but do not wash them. Leave that natural bloom, just as on eggs.
In order to store something long-term, you need to ensure circulation, keep it dry, and be patient.
A rule of thumb is that the larger the fruits, the longer they will take to cure.
After winter squash is picked, it needs 7 to 14 days of warmth and sunlight to cure properly.
The reason that apples can be stored for long periods of time is because the respiration process slows down as the skin hardens.
The hardened skin of squash acts as a protective layer against mold and bacteria. Curing also makes squash sweeter and richer by concentrating their natural sugars.
I like to wait one week before turning my squash over, letting the other side soak up some sun for the remaining week. If it’s cloudy or humid outside, I wait at least two weeks per side.
Storing winter squash and pumpkins
After your winter squashes have been sun-cured, you will need to find a place to store them where their skins will not be damaged.
The best place to store this would be in a dark, dry, well-ventilated space with temperatures between 50° and 55° F, and a relative humidity of 50-70%.
However, not everyone has ideal storage conditions, and sometimes people have to work with what they have.
One of the best ways to store winter crops is by using a root cellar. If you don’t have access to a root cellar, you can also store squashes in wooden crates in the garage. Make sure to cover the squashes with hay or straw, and to add insulation layers in between the squashes.
If you stack squash in a single layer, it will stay fresh for a longer period of time. You can also stack squash in multiple layers with organic material in between each layer.
To store squashes long-term, make sure they are not touching as this will spread rot.
How to store winter squash for peak flavor
Squash should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area with an ambient room temperature below 70°F.
Most produce will last shorter periods of time in very cold conditions.
Arrange your squash in a single layer on a shelf, making sure they have ample space around them for air circulation. Check on them often to make sure they are healthy.
If any dark marks appear on the squash, check it closely and if necessary, move it away from the other squash. These marks usually indicate that the squash is beginning to rot and will continue to deteriorate if not used immediately.
The harder and thicker the rind on a fruit is, the longer it will be able to be stored.
Acorn squash is the exception to the curing rule and actually declines in quality if left in the sun. It only keeps in ideal pantry conditions for a month or two without curing.
I’m always happy when I can find a squash that I harvested a while ago. It’s great to have soup and roasted squash available until the weather gets warmer again.
How long will squash last in storage?
Squashes will usually last for around 3 to 5 months. The ones with thicker, harder skins will be able to withstand the colder winter weather better.
Keep an eye on all of the pumpkins and squash as you grab the next one in line; always looking for signs of rot. If you have more pumpkins and squash than you can handle, consider giving them as gifts to fellow humans, chickens, or pigs – whoever resides on the homestead.
If they do rot, throw them straight in the compost pile.
When you’re ready to cut open a pumpkin or squash to make a winter pie or stew, don’t forget to roast the seeds or save them so you can grow more squash next year.
Common questions about curing winter squash
How do you ripen immature winter squash?
If they sound hollow, they’re ready. If your winter squash are green on the vine and winter arrives early, here’s a simple test to see if they have a chance of surviving: give them a good tap with your hand. If they sound hollow, they’re ready.
If the fruits are solid and have started to change color, you can harvest and ripen them indoors in front of a sunny window. Carefully watch them and turn the squash every few days until they reach the proper color for eating. Then, you can store them in a cool and dry place.
The squash that were not fully ripened may not last as long, so keep an eye on them and try to use them up within a couple of months.
Can you eat the rind of winter squash?
The skin of all winter squash is technically edible, there is no danger in consuming it, it is simply a matter of texture and personal preference.
The thicker the skin, the tougher it will be.
Winter squash like red kuri and delicata are popular because their skins practically melt away after sauteing or take on a pleasantly crisp texture after roasting. You may also have some luck with petite varieties of kabocha or butternut squash, which don’t necessarily need to be peeled.
Should you refrigerate winter squash?
Do not store winter squash in the fridge as it will make them go bad quicker. If they’re well cured, they’ll last perfectly fine stored in a cool, dry pantry (and last even longer if the room temperature is on the cooler side between 60°F and 70°F).
If you cut or cook winter squash, you need to refrigerate it.