NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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The Season for Squash

The Season for Squash

            Many gardeners raise winter squash because they store well. In fact, the term “winter squash” refers to the time when these vegetables are stored, not when they’re grown or harvested.  Common types of “winter squash” include, acorn, spaghetti, buttercup, butternut and Hubbard. They are planted in late spring and grown through summer just like summer squash, but winter squash require more days to maturity and are harvested in fall.

            But questions can arise around when to harvest squash. Is the best time when to pick squash the same for all kinds of squash? Is the size of summer squash or winter squash a factor in when to pick it? Buttercup squash, one of the most popular varieties, is a variety of Cucurbita maxima, or winter squash, native to parts of North America.  When ripe, buttercup squash develop bi-colored dark green and grayish skin with sweet orange flesh inside. It is best to determine the ripeness of buttercup squash before harvesting them since they cease ripening once removed from the vine; however, they provide several signs of ripeness that are easy to recognize.
            - Examine the coloring of the buttercup squash. This is the easiest way to tell if it is ripe. Look for dark green skin with subtle creamy stripes around the base and a cap of grayish-green skin with dark stripes along the top. Avoid squash with pale yellowish patches at the base or top. This indicates the squash is still immature.

            - Inspect the vine where it attaches to the top of the squash to see if it is completely dried and yellow. Tug on the squash to test if it will easily detach from the vine, which is a sure sign of ripeness.

            - Rap the buttercup squash with your knuckle. Listen for a soft, hollow sound to tell you it is ripe rather than a dull thump, which means it has a few more days to go before full maturity.

            - Cut the buttercup squash in half with a sharp knife. Look at the flesh to make sure it is uniformly orange in color with no white areas. Pierce the flesh with the tip of the knife to make sure it is soft, not dense and hard. Smell the flesh to see if the odor is strong and sweet rather than weak and slightly sour, which means it is still green.

            After fall harvest, it’s a simple process to prepare squash for storage that lasts well into winter. Before you put your squash away for storage, you will need to cure it. Curing allows the skin of the squash to firm up even further and for the cut stem to form a hard seal. Simply brush off any dirt (don't wash or get the squash wet), then place the squash in a warm, sunny window (or sunny spot outside if there is no chance of rain).

            After about two weeks, move the squash to a cool room – about 50 degrees. Maintain 2- to 3-inch-long stems on squash. If stems break off or loosen, the squash won’t store well. Use fruit with broken stems first and store others. Inspect stored squash weekly. If you see spots start to appear, move that squash away from others and plan to use it very soon.

             Storage life varies by squash type. Acorn squash stores the shortest amount of time: 4 weeks. Spaghetti stores four to five weeks; Buttercup, 13 weeks; Butternut, up to six months; Blue Hubbard, six to seven months. You’ll see best storage results when you stash squash in a cool, dry spot. For most winter squash, store at 50º to 55º F with relative humidity of 60 to 70 percent.

            Sometimes, you may have so much squash that even the long shelf life might not be enough to get through it all. If you're worried you won't be able to eat all of your squash before it starts to rot, you can always freeze it to keep you going right through into spring. You can freeze winter squash as either cubes or puree, depending on how you're most likely to use it. Puree can be used in breads, soups, and so on, but cubes are better for risotto, stir-fries, salads, and pastas.

  • Squash puree: Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast face down on a baking sheet until the flesh is soft. Scoop out the flesh, puree in a blender, and store in freezer bags or containers. 
  • Squash cubes: Peel the squash and remove the seeds and pulp. Cut into half-inch cubes and roast until slightly soft. Allow to cool completely, then store in a freezer bag or container.


            A flavorful and comforting food, spoon bread combines with squash in the following recipe.


Butternut Squash Spoon Bread



2 cups buttermilk

4 large eggs, separated

2 cups thawed, frozen unseasoned, pureed butternut squash

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, melted


            Preheat oven to 350°. Cook buttermilk in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often, 4 to 6 minutes or until bubbles appear around edges (do not boil); remove from heat.  

            Lightly beat egg yolks in a large bowl; stir in squash and cheese. Combine cornmeal and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Stir cornmeal mixture into squash mixture. Pour warm buttermilk over squash mixture; whisk until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes or until lukewarm.

            Brush a 2 1/2- to 3-qt. baking dish 1 Tbsp. melted butter; stir remaining melted butter into squash mixture.

            . Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold into squash mixture. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.

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