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Squashes for Winter Cooking

Squash Sweet Dumpling1
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Sweet Dumpling Squash

Butternut squash, acorn and Delicata squash, Hubbard and kabocha squash—all of these are winter squashes—you cook and serve them when the weather turns cold.

Winter squashes are grown in the summer just like summer squashes, but instead of picking and serving them tender and immature (like summer squash), winter squashes mature on the vine, are harvested just a few days before the first frost in autumn, and are cured and stored for eating one, two, or three months later—autumn into winter into early spring. They gain flavor as they age.

Serve winter squashes diced and sautéed as a side dish, baked, mashed and simmered in stock as a soup, in gratins with potatoes, moistened with stock or water and baked, in risotti, or simply puréed enriched with butter. Winter squashes are mostly sweet tasting, many with a flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes.

Three types of winter squash:

There are more than 650 different varieties of winter squashes, but there are just three basic types:

  • Those for eating in the fall—acorn, Delicata, and spaghetti squash; species Curcurbita pepo.
  • Those for eating in early- to mid-winter—buttercup, banana, Hubbard, and kabocha squash; species Curcurbita maxima.
  • Those for eating in late winter and early spring—butternut squash; species Curcurbita moschata.

Choose winter squashes on when you plan to eat them, flavor, and how you want to cook them.

Here are the three types of winter squashes and recommended varieties in each species:

Squashes for eating in the fall: acorn, Delicata, and spaghetti squash (species Curcurbita pepo).

Curcurbita pepo squashes don’t keep quite as long in storage as those from the other two species, just a few weeks of storing will intensify their flavor. C. pepo squashes turn orange or develop orange spots on their rinds. When the orange spots darken and the stems and skin grow hard, these squashes are ready for harvest. Grow these squashes across most regions.

Acorn squash
Acorn squash

• Acorn squash (C. pepo) has a sweet, nutty flavor, but is less sweet and drier than many other winter squashes. Acorns are small- to medium size with fluted dark green rinds (acorn shaped) with orange, yellow, or creamy white streaks. The flesh is pale yellow or pale orange. Acorns mature in 90 days and can be grown in most regions including the cool, short-season areas.

Three acorn squashes worth growing are: Golden Acorn, Tuffy, and Table Ace. Golden Acorn, also called Table Gold, has the best flavor of the 25 acorn varieties. It has golden orange skin, grows on a compact bush plant and is ready for harvest in 90 days. Tuffy is sweeter than the average acorn squash with semi-dry flesh well suited for baking; Tuffy is ready in 90 days and intensifies in flavor with a couple of weeks of curing. Table Ace is a smooth tasty acorn growing as almost bush like; it has a dark green rind and is ready in 85 days.

Delicata squash
Delicata squash

• Delicata squash (C. pepo) has moist, fine-grained, yellow flesh, and outstanding flavor reminiscent of sweet potato. Delicata has an edible skin and is well suited for roasting and grilling. It is an heirloom dating from 1894 ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days. Delicata weighs 1 to 2 pounds and is long and cylindrical with a pale yellow rind that is striped or mottled in shades of cream, green, orange. Sugarloaf is a sweet flavored Delicata-type squash shaped like pumpkin weighing 1½ pounds. Delicata JS is flavorful, oblong, green and white-striped weighing 1½ pounds.

• Dumpling squash (C. pepo) is a sweet potato-flavored fruit with tender flesh suited for roasting. It is small (just ½ pound), globe-shaped, green and white striped, and grows on short vines ideal for small gardens. Sweet Dumpling is a recommended variety.

Spaghetti squash
Spaghetti squash

• Spaghetti squash (C. pepo) is an oblong squash with slightly nutty-flavored, stringy, noodle-like, gold-yellow flesh that is often cooked as a pasta substitute. Spaghetti squash can be boiled or baked and topped with marinara or creamy white sauce. One squash is enough for a family meal. It is yellow skinned and ready for harvest in 73 days and should be used within three months of harvest. It is widely grown. Hasta La Pasta is a spaghetti variety with oblong fruit 6 to 8 inches long growing on compact plants.

Squashes for eating in early- to mid-winter: buttercup, banana, Hubbard, and kabocha squash (species Curcurbita maxima).

Curcubita maxima squashes are dry fleshed and rich flavored, well suited for baking. They grow sweeter with storage reaching the peak of flavor in mid-winter. These squashes are good keepers, lasting two months in storage. They grow big on sprawling vines and tolerate both cool and dry, arid growing conditions. They are ready for harvest when at least three-quarters of the stem’s surface has turned dry and corky, in 105 to 120 days.

Hubbard squash
Hubbard squash

• Hubbard squash (C. maxima) is a mild-flavored, medium to large round squash with nearly pointed ends and a lumpy body usually green to blue-gray. The flesh is grainy and yellow-orange. Use this squash for baking, pies, and soups and as a substitute for pumpkin in recipes. Hubbards are ready to harvest about 100 days after sowing.

• Banana squash (C. maxima) is a mild flavored and hefty fruit, weighing up to 30 pounds or more. Banana squash is long, cylindrical with green-gray or pink rinds and orange flesh. Blue Banana and Pink Banana are the most flavorful. Blue Banana is gray-green skinned and bears fruit 25 to 30 pounds. The fruit is ready for harvest in 105 to 120 days. Pink Banana has deep pink fruits weighing 15 to 30 pounds and is ready for harvest in 100 to 120 days.

• Buttercup squash (C. maxima) is sweet potato flavored with slightly moist (semi-dry) flesh. Buttercup is a squat, round and dark green squash with a button or turban on the blossom end. The fruit is slate gray or dark green with pale stripes and weighs 3 to 5 pounds. Buttercup is ready for harvest 90 to 100 days after sowing. Three tasty buttercup varieties are: Bitterroot Buttercup which weighs 2½ to 4 pounds and is very sweet; Mooregold which weighs 3 to 4 pounds and has excellent flavor; and Autumn Cup which weighs 3 to 5 pounds and grows on a semi-bush vine, a good choice for small spaces.

Kabocha squash
Kabocha squash

• Kabocha squash (C. maxima) is a sweet tasting squash after several weeks of storing—prepare in mid-winter. It has a smooth but dry, flaky flesh well suited for baking or mashing. It is round, dark green or orange skinned and large weighing 20 pounds or more (kabocha means pumpkin in Japanese). Kabochas grow well in drier climates, but are adapted to most regions. They are ready for harvest in 90 to 100 days. Two tasty kabocha varieties are: Cha-Cha a small 4 to 5 pound hybrid that stores well and has fine flavor, and Johnny JWS 6303 which weighs up to 4 pounds has a dark green rind and sweet dry flesh.

Squashes for eating in late winter and early spring—butternut squash (species Curcurbita moschata).

Curcurbita moschata squashes store long, well into late winter and early spring. They include the butternut squash, the Long Island Cheese squash, and several semi-tropical and tropical squashes. These squashes have solid stems and so are unattractive to squash vine borers, which plague many squashes. They like heat and humidity and do well in very warm climate gardens. Because they ripen late they are not a good choice for short season gardens.

Butternut squash
Butternut squash

• Butternut squash (C. moschata) is the tastiest—sweet, creamy, and nutty flavored, most widely adapted of this species, and easiest to grow. It is most flavorful after three months of storage and so can be enjoyed late winter to early spring. Butternut is large, elongated, and pear shaped with a smooth yellow to butterscotch colored shell and orange flesh. It is ready for harvest about105 days after seeding when the fruits turn from pale tan to dark tan, just before frost hits. Butternut squashes should be cured in a warm, dry place for several days immediately after harvest to seal the skins and dry out the stems. Then they should be stored in a dry, airy space. There are 200 varieties of butternut squash. Good choices are: Waltham Butternut which weighs 3 to 6 pounds, has light tan fruit, and grows on a vigorous, productive vine; Butternut Supreme which grows on short vines and is suited for a small garden; Burpee’s Butterbush which has fruit weighing just 1½ pounds on a compact vine; and Nicklow’s Delight a semi-bush hybrid for small gardens that does well in hot summer regions.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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