Winter squashes are best from early fall through winter.
Winter squashes are drier, more fibrous, and much sweeter than summer squashes. Their thick, hard shells can not be eaten—like summer squashes, but these squashes can be stored into the winter and almost into the early spring.
The sweet flesh of winter squash becomes creamy when cooked, and the seeds can be washed, dried, roasted and served either plain or salted.
Winter squashes belong to the Cucurbita family of squashes, marrows, and pumpkins.
Here are best bet winter squash and pumpkin varieties:
• Acorn (C. pepo): somewhat oval and acorn-shaped with a ribbed, dark green skin and orange flesh. The flesh is tender and fine-textured with a flavor that hints of hazelnuts and pepper. To prepare, remove the seeds and bake. You can eat this one directly from the shell. This variety keeps fro 30 to 50 days.
• Banana (C. maxima): a cylindrical squash that can grow between 20 and 24 inches (51-60 cm) long and about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. The banana squash can be ivory or pinkish or bluish-gray skinned with firm, fine-textured, orange flesh.
• Buttercup (C. maxima): a variety of turban winter squash. It ranges in size from 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) in diameter and from 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) tall. It has a light blue-gray turban crown with a dark green shell flecked with gray. The flesh is orange and tastes a bit like sweet potato. This squash can be baked, steamed, or simmered. The buttercup weighs about 3 pounds (1.4 kg) and can be stored for about 1 month.
• Butternut (C. moschata): large, cylindrical to pear-shaped from 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) long and 3 to 5 inches (7.5-13 cm) in diameter. This winter squash can weigh from 2 to 3 pounds (.9-1.4 kg). The color of its skin ranges from yellow to camel. The finely textured, deep orange flesh is sweet tasting. You can bake, steam, or simmer this squash. Avoid this squash if it has a greenish skin.
• Calabaza (C. moschata): general name for warm-climate pumpkins. In the United States, the name calabaza is applied to a rounded to pear-shaped squash with mottled skin—deep green, orange, amber, or buff and speckled or striated averaging about 10 pounds and 9 to 10 inches (23-25 cm) in diameter. Orange flesh is can be bland and watery or slightly sweet. Use in stews, soups, and purées.
• Delicata (C. pepo): an heirloom squash introduced in 1894. Delicata is a small, elongated or rounded ribbed squash from 6 to 9 inches (15-23 cm) long, green-striped and flecked edible skin with pale yellow, sweet flesh. Good for stuffing and baking, even right after harvest without curing. Sometimes called ‘Sweet Potato Squash’.
• Green-Striped Cushaw (C. argyrospyma): pear-shaped squash with long, thin neck, 16 to 20 inches (41-51 cm) long, weighing 12 to 16 pounds. Thick creamy-white skin mottled with green and a moist, coarse flesh that is bland tasting. Popular home-garden variety and farmers’ market variety but not the best quality.
• Hubbard (C. maxima): oval to round squash with a thick rind ranging in color from dark green to gray-blue or orange-red. This squash has a dry, grainy texture and a yellow-orange flesh. The Hubbard is less sweet than other winter squashes. It is best boiled or baked and can be mashed or puréed. It will store for up to 6 months.
• Jarrahdale pumpkin or Australian pumpkin (C. maxima): Australian cultivar with heavily lobed sides (looks like a “classic” pumpkin), 13-15 inches (32-38 cm) in diameter. Green-gray skin and deep orange, smooth, creamy flesh that is slightly sweet. Use in pies, soups, bread, or cookies.
• Kabocha (C. maxima, C. moschata): includes several varieties of Japanese squash with rich, sweet flavor and almost fiberless flesh. (“Kabocha” means squash in Japanese.) Generally a medium-sized and flattened globe-shaped fruit usually glossy dark green or lightly mottled or striped skin with orange flesh. Baked or steamed the flavor will balance between sweet potato and pumpkin. Can also be braised, deep-fried in tempura batter, or simmered.
• Pumpkin and mammoth pumpkin (C. peppo, C. maxima): Two different species of winter squash: the pumpkin or sugar pumpkin (C. peppo) is used for jack-o’-lanterns or pies; and the mammoth pumpkin (C. maxima) is grown for “giant pumpkin” contests. The sugar pumpkin is orange and furrowed and is small- to medium-sized usually weighing between 2 and 20 pounds (.9-9 kg). The sugar pumpkin is related to the acorn squash and zucchini. Besides its edible flesh, the sugar pumpkin has hull-less, edible seeds. The mammoth pumpkin is related to the Hubbard squash. The mammoth is very large with pinkish-orange or grayish-green skin and can be pear-shaped, bulging where it touches the ground. The mammoth pumpkin can grow to more than 100 pounds (45.5 kg).
• Rouge Vif d’Etampes or Cinderella (C. maxima): developed in France in the early nineteenth century, a classic beautiful European pumpkin about 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter with deep-flame color and weighing about 30 pounds. Deep yellow flesh is stringy and not flavorful. Can be baked, simmered, microwaved, or steamed.
• Spaghetti (C. pepo): the spaghetti squash is also called vegetable squash. This watermelon-shaped squash has a skin colored creamy-yellow. The spaghetti squash gets its name from its yellow-gold flesh which separates into spaghetti-like strands when cooked. This squash will average from 4 to 8 pounds (1.8-3.7 kg). It will store at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. After this squash is baked, the strands can be served with sauce just like pasta.
• Sweet Dumpling (C. pepo): Plump, flattened globe-shaped squash about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. Ivory colored skin with dark-green stripes and a very sweet, fine-textured, pale yellow flesh. Use for stuffing. Does not need curing; stores for 3 to 4 months.
• Turban (C. maxima): this is a family of winter squashes which includes the buttercup squash. At the blossom end, this squash looks like a turban. Turban squashes range in size from 2 to 15 inches (5-76 cm) in diameter at the base. The skin colors vary from bright hues of orange, green, and yellow. The flesh is fine-textured and very sweet with a hazelnut flavor. Turban squashes can be baked, steamed, or simmered.
Winter Squashes Selection
Local season. Winter squash is at peak season from late summer through early spring, September through March in the northern hemisphere.
Choose. Select winter squash that is firm, heavy for its size, with a dull-colored skin. Winter squash with a shiny skin will not be ripe and may be flavorless. Avoid squash that is cracked, soft or blemished. Winter squash should have a hard, thick rind. A winter squash that is too old will appear wooly-skinned and its flesh will be fibrous.
Amount. Allow ⅓ to ½ pound per person. Or serve baked halve of smaller squashes as individual servings.
Store. Winter squash will keep for 1 to 6 months after harvest. Store winter squash away from the light in a cool but not cold place. Cold will damage the flesh, and heat will convert the fruit’s sugar to starch. It is best to leave a portion of the stem intact so that the fruit will not lose moisture too rapidly.
Cut winter squash can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated in the vegetable crisper for 1 to 2 days. Winter squash freezes well, especially if puréed. Individual portions can be frozen for later use.