Winter Squash

November 13, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is Pumpkins and Winter Squash!
Host Mikki Uzupes hears about the many varieties of winter squash from farmer Tim Jaggars of Robinson Family Farm in South Canaan PA, and the many ways to prepare them from executive chef Travis Lugo from Glass– at the Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA. Nutritionist Carol Kneier also adds some of the benefits of eating colorful winter squash.

About Winter Squash

Winter Squash and pumpkins have been grown in North America for more than 5,000 years. Native Americans have traditionally grown squash, corn, and beans together. Called the “Three Sisters,” the squash vines and leaves serve as a groundcover to prevent weeds from growing, beans provide natural fertilizer for all three plants, and corn provides a support system for the climbing beans.
Winter squash comes in many varieties, pumpkins included.
The name, “winter squash,” seems contradictory: these are heat-loving vegetables with a long growing season, planted in late spring/early summer, harvested in fall, and, stored for winter eating—thus their name.

There are untold numbers of cultivars, but this Epicurious article has a photo id guide to 12 common varieties sold at farmers’ markets in the US.

Recommended Varieties

o Winter Luxury Pie
o Sweet Dumpling
o Connecticut Field Pumpkin, an heirloom variety
o Waltham butternut
o Honeybaby or Honeynut
o Butterscotch
Kabocha squash:
o Sunshine
Heirloom varieties:
o Blue Hubbard, an heirloom variety
o Buttercup, an heirloom variety
Hybrid varieties:
o Koginut, a cross between butternut and kabocha
Delicata, a bush-type squash (not vining)
Tuffy, an acorn squash
Spaghetti squash:
o Sugaretti
Note: if you plant more than one squash variety in your garden, the multiple types will likely cross-pollinate. So, the fruit will come true the first year, but if you keep the seeds to plant the next year, you’ll end up with crosses that may not represent any of the squash you planted the year before.

In the Garden

Site Selection and Preparation
• Pick a site in full sun with lots of space for sprawling vines; most full-size winter squash varieties need 50 to 100 square feet to spread. (They can also be grown in 5- to 10-gallon buckets and easily grow up trellises. There are also smaller varieties that take less growing space, and there are bush varieties that don’t spread as much.)
• Soil must be rich and fertile but also drain well and not get too soggy.
Aim for soil pH of 5.8 to 7.0.
• About two weeks before planting in late spring, prepare the soil with lots of organic matter—aged manure and/or compost (about 50% native soil to organic matter). If you prefer, this task can be done the previous autumn.

PlantingChoose a vining variety or bush variety:
Bush squash, seen here, never produce side vines and do not spread like vining squash plants.The usual growth habit of winter squash is for vining plants that can take up lots of growing space; long-vining varieties can reach out 10 to 12 feet. If you’re short on space, try growing bush varieties, which typically take up a 3-foot-by-3-foot area (see Winter Squash for Tight Quarters | Fine Gardening ). Semi-bush varieties take up slightly more space but never get very far from the center of the plant.

The Basics:
• Winter squash are very sensitive to cold and require long, warm, summer days to grow to maturity; generally, 75 to 100 frost-free days are needed.
• Seeds should not be planted outdoors until the danger of frost has passed and the air and soil are at least 60°F, preferably 70°F.
In northern locations this means that seeds are generally planted outdoors by late May or early June.
• In locations with a short growing season, you can start seeds in peat pots 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date. However, squash seedlings do not always transplant well; handle the roots gently.
• Spacing is important. Plants need enough room and air for leaves to breathe and dry out again after it rains and when there are damp, humid nights. Failure to dry out enough promotes the risk of powdery mildew disease on leaves.

The “hill system”
A traditional method for growing heat-loving vegetables like winter squash is planting them in mounds of soil, also called “hills.” This allows the soil to warm up more quickly in the spring and stay warmer than the ground soil during the growing season. It improves germination and growth. Amending poor soil simply by adding compost when creating the hills makes for an easier job.
Aside: If you are interested to plant a Three Sisters mound (corn, beans & squash), here’s a good video:

• A mound or hill is formed from surrounding soil or improved garden mix from a gardening store. Hills are typically 8 to 10 inches high.
• For traditional vining varieties of winter squash, create hills 24 inches in diameter, spacing them 8 to 10 feet apart.
However, if you’re planting bush varieties and not creating mounds, space in rows 3 to 6 feet apart with plants 2 to 3 feet apart.
• Plant 3 to 6 seeds per mound at a depth of 1 inch, spacing seeds at least 5 inches apart. Seeds should germinate in about a week with the right soil temperature (70°F or more). (If you choose not to create mounds, sow seeds in level ground 1 inch deep with seeds 2 to 3 feet apart in rows that are 3 to 6 feet apart.)
• If growing only a few plants, use 2 to 3 tablespoons of a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer for each mound. (If not planting in mounds, scatter the fertilizer evenly over a 2-foot by2-foot area and then work it into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil.
• When seedlings in mounds are about 4 inches tall, thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones. (When seedlings planted in rows reach about 4 inches tall, thin to one plant every 24 to 36 inches.)
• In cold climates, use row covers if necessary to protect plants for the first few weeks of spring.

Winter squash should be harvested when it’s ripe. This butternut squash is not yet ripe. Protect young plants:
• Mulch to discourage weeds, retain moisture, and protect shallow roots.
If you want to use black plastic mulch, there are pros and cons:
Pros: Its ability to suppress weed growth and retain soil moisture is excellent.
Cons: Unfortunately, although black plastic prevents water from exiting the soil, it also prevents water from entering the soil. (When farmers plant crops in rows, rows covered in black plastic are alternated with rows of bare ground.)
• Use row covers early in the season to prevent insect problems. Remember to remove covers before flowering to allow pollination by insects.

• Take care when weeding around your plants not to damage the plants’ shallow roots.
• Squash vines are delicate; take care not to damage the vines.
• Pruning the vines will help with space, as well as concentrate the plant’s energy on the remaining vines and fruit.

• Water thoroughly, frequently, and consistently, with at least 1 inch per week. Water more if you see the leaves wilting.
• Sandy soils need to be watered more often than heavy clay soils.
• When watering, try to keep leaves and fruit dry. (Keeping the leaves dry is important to preventing powdery-mildew fungus.)

• Winter squash are heavy feeders. When the first blooms appear, scratch about 2 tablespoons of a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer around each hill. If squash are planted in rows, side dress each plant. Alternatively plant with legumes or other plants that are nitrogen-fixers.
• Do not let the fertilizer touch the plants. Water the plants after fertilizing.

Flowering, fruiting and pollination:
Pumpkin Flowers• Poor pollination can result in squash flowers that do not bear fruit or that bear small fruit. Pollinator activity is reduced by chemicals, poor weather at bloom time, and lack of pollinator habitat. To attract more bees, try placing a bee house in your garden or plant pollinator flowers nearby.
• If your first blossoms aren’t forming fruits, that’s normal. Squash plants have separate male and female flowers. Males appear first on long thin stalks. Female flowers follow; these have an immature fruit at the bottom. To fruit, pollen from male flowers must be transferred to the female flower by bees. Or, the gardener can help manually with a cotton swab or paint brush.

Support plants if needed
Netting or slings made of breathable fabric can help to support heavy fruit.

Pests and Diseases:
Squash bug eggsSquash bugs are generally considered the most difficult pest and need to be managed early. There are several organic approaches to control:
• Handpick and scrape off egg clusters early and as best you can.
• Spray neem oil on egg clusters and juvenile squash bugs.
• Protect young plants under row covers.
• Delay squash planting until early summer (making sure you have enough days for fruit to mature before first fall frost) to avoid problems from squash vine borers and other early-season pests and diseases, buying time for natural enemies of squash bugs to become more numerous and active as summer progresses.

Powdery mildew 9Powdery mildew is a white powdery fungus grows on the upper leaf surface of the lower leaves.
o Leaves may be twisted or distorted, then wilt and die.
o On some plants, infected leaves have dry, scab-like spots, and fungal growth is not obvious.
o Make sure you have the right amount of sunshine and adequate plant spacing.
o Prune foliage as needed to encourage proper airflow.
o Water plants at the soil level, and avoid getting the foliage wet.
o Keep garden beds and borders clean and free of weeds.
o Consider rotating squash in alternate years by planting any of the following flowers: bee balm, black-eyed Susans, delphiniums, hardy geraniums, phlox, salvia, verbena, and/or zinnias.
Treatment: (also see Powdery Mildew Remedies | Gardeners Path).
As with most treatments, they are the most effective if you catch an infection at the early stages.
o Spraying milk on areas of plants that display symptoms will help to control powdery mildew. Use a 50/50 mix of liquid milk and water or full strength if you don’t have a large area to cover. Be sure to spray stems and undersides of leaves. The spray can develop a sour smell in the hot sun, but that’s OK. Reapply after rain.
o Sulfur is a classic fungicide that is effective for controlling powdery mildew, but it must be applied preventively, in advance of symptoms. You can spray it on plants that you know to be susceptible, to prevent infection.
o If plants are infected, prune off diseased tissue and destroy it. Do not put it in your compost pile, or the infection could spread to other parts of the garden.
o Apply a bio-fungicide to protect the plants. Be certain your crop is listed on the label. Contact Penn State Extension for information about what fungicides are available.

Winter squash should be harvested when ripe; harvesting too young reduces their sweetness and shortens storage abilities. Winter squash do not fully ripen until fall’s nighttime temperatures go down into the 50s prompting sugars to accumulate.
• Squash cannot tolerate frost; so harvest before your first fall frost to avoid any injuries to the fruit.
• Harvest on a dry day in early- to mid-fall when fruits are fully mature.
• You’ll know it’s time to harvest when vine leaves die back and turn brown, the stems dry out and get tough, and the skin has hardened and has a deep color. If you can pierce the skin with your fingernail, it is not mature.
• Cut the squash off the vine carefully; do not tear off or you may break the fruit stem or the vines. Use a sharp knife or heavy pruners or clippers, so to retain as much of the stem as you can, leaving at least an inch or two.
• Never carry squash by the stem; if the stem breaks off, this creates an open “wound,” exposing the squash to infection and rot.
• To avoid disease, don’t forget to clean up the old squash vines after you harvest.
• Add only healthy vines to the compost pile, if you have one. They’ll break down during the winter, and you can work into the soil before the next planting season.

Winter squash must be “cured” before storage. This process helps to dry off excess moisture and to harden the skin, sealing out fungi and bacteria and allowing the squash to keep longer.
• If the weather is dry, you can leave your squash on the vine and let them cure outside in the sunshine.
• If it’s wet or turning cold, bring the squash indoors and hold in a warm (70° to 80°F) dry spot, such as a sunny windowsill or on a slatted greenhouse bench to cure.
• Wait 10 to 20 days before eating.

The flavor improves with storage.
• Before storing winter squash, dip it into or wash with a low-concentration bleach rinse (1/2 cup bleach to 5 cups water) to sanitize the skin and eliminate bacteria. Air-dry the fruit.
• Store in a cool (40° to 50°F), dry, dark place with good circulation. Many varieties of squash will last most of the winter. Note: Acorn squash will not keep for more than 10 to 12 weeks, unlike many other winter squashes that can keep for up to 6 months or more.
• Occasionally rotate and look for signs of rot. Remove any squash that shows signs of decay.
• If you grow heirloom varieties (not hybrids), try to save some seeds to plant next year. Wash and completely dry the seeds, then store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

In the Kitchen

SquashesThe best-known winter squash may be pumpkin. But North America is home to a wider range of other winter squash; butternut, acorn, Hubbard, spaghetti, turban or buttercup, dumpling, and delicata are a few of them.
• The skin of winter squash is not eaten, with the exception of delicata squash.
• The flesh, too, is generally not eaten raw, but this has its aficionados; try recently harvested and cured winter squash sliced paper-thin and marinated before adding to a salad. See this recipe from Bon Appetit.
• When roasted, winter squash seeds are not only edible but also quite tasty.

Shopping and storage
• Look for hard skin with no softness. The squash should feel heavy in your hand.
• Cut squash can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator for a few days. Keep whole, unpeeled squash for several weeks in a cool, dry place.

• Allowing for removal of seeds and skins, 1 pound of winter squash, halved and baked is adequate for 2 servings.
• One pound peeled and seeded yields approximately 2 cups puréed.
Note: Weights from one squash variety to another can vary, so it’s difficult to give absolute quantities for all winter squashes.

Cucurbita moschata Butternut squash seed cavity and seedsFirst Step: Opening up the squash
• Unless cooking a squash whole (in its skin) cutting open some varieties of large winter squash can be difficult. A heavy knife or cleaver and a rubber mallet can be handy tools. Whack the knife into the squash and tap it with the mallet to open the squash.
• If you don’t have a mallet, wobble the knife (up and down in a seesaw motion) while firmly pressing down until you can cut the squash in half.
• Cut next to the stem rather than through it.
• If you cannot open the squash or if it is too large to handle, bake it whole at 350°F until it feels somewhat soft when pressed, about 30 minutes or longer depending on size. When cool enough to handle, cut in half and scrape out the seeds, and then return it to the oven and continue baking until it’s done.

Next Step: When to remove the seeds & when to peel
• Some small squashes are cooked first in their skin and their seeds and flesh removed after cooking. Spaghetti squash, for example, is baked whole first, cut open before seeds are removed. (See below for recipe for cooking spaghetti squash.) Acorn and delicata (and sometimes butternut) squash are halved and seeds removed, then baked in their skin.
• Some squashes are peeled first, their seeds removed, and the flesh cut into pieces—halves, quarters, wedges, or chunks—before cooking. Butternut can be prepared this way too.
• Steaming over boiling water is a good cooking method for these; the cooked pieces can be added to soups or stews, or you could purée the flesh for a thick, smooth soup or to make a pudding or sweet pie filling.
• If you want to grill or roast chunks or slices, blanch them for 2 or 3 minutes in boiling water, and after draining and cooling, brush or toss with oil. Grill over charcoal until grill marks show on both sides, or roast in a hot oven (400°F) until squash is tender but still a bit firm.

Some Cooking Methods:
Roasted butternut squash (5015012682)Baked halves Open the squash and scoop out the seeds and fibers, then cut in half. Brush the cut surfaces with a thin film of oil and place the squash cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 375°F or at whatever oven temperature is convenient until the squash looks wrinkled, soft, and about to collapse, usually about 30 minutes. The cut side should be richly glazed. To serve: Place upright on a serving plate and season with butter, salt & pepper and serve; or scoop out the flesh and mash it with butter.

Steamed Cut winter squash into halves, quarters, or wedges. Scrape out the seeds and place squash in a steamer basket over boiling water. Steam, covered, until tender, 30 minutes to 40 minutes depending on size. Steam chunks or slices 8 to 15 minutes. To serve: Season with butter, salt & pepper, or save the flesh and use for another dish.

Puréed Halve, seed, and bake 3 pounds squash until tender. Scrape the flesh away from the skin, then beat until smooth with a wooden spoon. If the squash is stringy, use a food processor or pass through a food mill. Season with butter, salt & pepper. Makes about 2 cups.
To enrich the purée, grate a Swiss-style cheese (Gruyere or Emmenthaler) or Fontina, or add Mascarpone and freshly-grated nutmeg to taste. Flavor with extra-virgin olive oil or dark sesame oil. Or mix in caramelized, sautéed onion.
Note: Acorn and spaghetti squash do not purée well.

Roasted delicata squash - StierchRoasted Use squash that’s easy to peel, like butternut, which has a smooth surface. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and seed 2 1/2 to 3 pounds squash cut into 2-inch cubes. Toss with olive or vegetable oil to coat lightly and season with salt & pepper. Spread the squash in a large baking dish or on a sheet pan. Roast for 15 minutes, turn the pieces and roast for another 15 minutes. Turn again and bake until the squash is completely tender, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Grilled butternut Slice the neck from a butternut squash where it joins the round bulb. Reserve the bottom for another use. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices and steam until barely tender. To 1/2 cup olive oil, add 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves plus one teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme; if using dried herbs, use less than half this amount. Brush the oil mixture over the squash and season with salt & pepper. Grill on both sides until marked and tender. Serve with a dash of apple cider vinegar or with a spicy condiment.

Deep fry Cut squash like French fries and deep fry for 8 to 15 minutes. See How to Deep Fry Butternut Squash: 10 Step |


Squash Pancakes – makes 6 to 8 small pancakes

1 egg
1 cup cooked mashed winter squash
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon & nutmeg
1 teaspoon melted butter
1 Tablespoon milk

Step 1 – Beat egg and mix with squash. Sift together all dry ingredients and add to squash/egg mixture. Stir in butter and milk. Mix well.

Step 2 – Ladle onto a heated griddle or fry pan. Cook on one side until bubbles appear, and then turn and cook the other side.

Step 3 – Serve with maple syrup, honey, sour cream, or applesauce.

Download Recipe

Butternut Squash Coins – Serves 4 to 6

1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds
4 to 6 Tablespoons olive or sunflower seed oil
Salt and pepper
Apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar for serving

Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Step 1 – Remove the neck from the base of the squash where it joins the round bulb, reserving the bulb for another use. Remove the stem. Peel the neck with a vegetable peeler or a knife. Slice the neck crosswise about 1/4 inch thick.

Step 2 – Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add a single layer of squash and fry until golden and flecked with brown, about 10 minutes.

Step 3 – Turn and fry the second side. Remove to paper towels and drain, then keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the rest, adding oil as needed. Season with salt & pepper. Serve, drizzled with vinegar.

Download Recipe

Winter Squash Soup – Yields 6 to 8 servings
This is a copycat of Panera’s Harvest Squash Soup recipe, among the many you can find on the internet.

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
2 pounds chopped butternut squash (about 6 heaping cups)
3 small carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups apple cider or apple juice (do NOT use apple cider vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup prepared pumpkin purée
2 Tablespoons butter
2 ounces cream cheese
1 Tablespoon brown sugar, or more to taste
Salt to taste
Heavy cream (optional)

Step 1 – In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, stirring frequently.

Step 2 – Add squash, carrots, vegetable broth, apple cider and spices.
Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until squash and carrots are soft.

Step 3 – Remove from heat and add pumpkin purée, butter, cream cheese and brown sugar. Puree with a hand (immersion) blender or in batches in a normal blender. Blend until very smooth.

Step 4 – Taste soup and add salt as desired. You can also add a little heavy cream if you want a more decadent soup. If desired, add more vegetable broth to thin soup. Return to burner over medium-low heat as needed to heat the soup back up and then serve immediately.
To recreate the taste of Panera’s winter squash soup, add extra brown sugar or honey to taste.

Download Recipe

Toasted Spiced Pumpkin Seeds – makes 1 cup

1 1/2 cups seeds (with pulp) freshly scraped from a pumpkin (or butternut or acorn squash)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Step 1 – Lightly oil a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
Spread the seeds and pulp on the prepared pan and bake them or 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pulp separates from the seeds and the seeds are golden.

Step 2 – Remove the pulp from the seeds, discarding the pulp.

Step 3 – In a bowl combine the oil, chili powder, cumin, cloves, salt & pepper. Toss the seeds with the spice mix, coating them evenly and return to the pan.

Step 4 – Toast the coated seeds for 5 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crisp, and then let them cool.

The seeds will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

Download Recipe

Baked Spaghetti Squash
To get “spaghetti” strands, the only way to prepare spaghetti squash is to bake it.

With its skin on, poke holes in this squash with a long-tined fork or skewer, so the squash won’t burst while cooking. Depending on its size, bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 minutes to 90 minutes.

Spaghetti Squash cooked and prepared 3When cool enough to handle, split the squash lengthwise down the middle and remove the seeds and stringy portions. Drag a fork through the cooked flesh, as if you were “combing” it, and the “spaghetti” will pull off in long strands.

Serve right away with butter, salt & pepper or with your favorite sauce, or refrigerate for later used.

Baked Acorn Squash
Because of its uneven surface, the easiest way to prepare acorn squash it to bake it in its skin.

Halve acorn squash, scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers. Brush the cut surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Arrange in a baking pan, cut sides down. Cover the bottom of the pan with 1/2-inch of water. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 30 minutes.

Combine 1/3 cup melted butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar honey, or maple syrup for each 2 pounds of squash. Turn squash halves cut sides up and brush with butter/sugar mixture, and then return to the oven and bake until tender (15 to 30 minutes) basting occasionally.

Season with salt & pepper to taste and serve.

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Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

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