“Winter squash” is actually a generic term for myriad varieties of sturdy, hard-skinned squashes such as acorn, butternut, pumpkins, Kabocha, Hubbard, spaghetti, Delicata and Sweet Dumpling. Across the globe, winter squashes are central to the cuisine of many cultures, because they are a rich source of nutrition and will keep for months without refrigeration. Despite their different sizes, shapes and colors, winter squash generally have a very similar flavor — though their water content, sweetness and texture will vary from one variety to the next. Winter squashes are available year-round, but for best flavor and texture, enjoy them at their peak, from late September through November.
Acorn squash is named for its distinctive acorn shape. Its color ranges from dark green to gold or white. The acorn's heavily fluted bowl shape is often stuffed and roasted; its flesh is mild and finely textured, but often stringy.
The butternut is the most common all-purpose winter squash. It has a distinctive thick neck and bulbous bottom, with smooth, relatively thin pink-beige skin. Butternut's firm orange flesh is sweet with a hint of nuts, and its very creamy texture makes it good for all kinds of recipes.
Sweet Dumpling squash is a small, squat and round squash with pale, ivory-yellow skin streaked with deep green stripes. Rarely larger than a grapefruit, its flesh is pale yellow and finely textured, but with a drier texture like a potato. This aptly named squash has a very sweet flavor with hints of corn.
Why choose organic winter squash?
- Winter squash is #28 on the Environmental Working Group's "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce," a list of produce that carries the most pesticide residues when grown conventionally. Commercial processors often apply petroleum-based fungicidal waxes to the skin of conventional winter squash to extend shelf life; they’re extremely difficult to remove and can be absorbed into the squash’s edible flesh. So choose organic winter squash whenever you can to help keep conventional agricultural chemical residues out of your food.
- Organic produce is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!
- WhatsOnMyFood.org from the Pesticide Action Network shows you searchable results for vegetables like broccoli and a wide range of other organic and conventional foods. It’s an easy-to-use and empowering tool for learning about pesticide residues and their health effects for all of us.
How to select and store winter squash
- Look for rock-hard specimens that feel heavy for their size. If there's any give to the shell, or if the skin scrapes off easily with your fingernail, the squash is either immature or past its prime. Always try to buy specimens with stems attached. Stems that are dry and corky indicate the squash remained on the vine until it was fully mature.
- A winter squash's skin should be unblemished, matte rather than shiny. Shiny skins indicate that the squash is either very young or has been waxed to extend its shelf life.
- Store winter squash in a dry, well-ventilated place, ideally at about 55 degrees F. Warmer temperatures will shorten their storage life but won’t destroy their flavor. Once cut, wrap winter squash tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days (don’t refrigerate uncut winter squash). Cooked, puréed squash freezes well and can be stored frozen up to 3 months.
Tips for using winter squash
- Winter squash preparation generally involves peeling the tough skins, which can be an aerobic exercise in itself. If your squash is very large and awkward to handle, use the microwave to help make cutting and peeling easier and safer. Pierce the squash deeply in several places with a sharp knife (so the squash doesn’t explode), then microwave for 2 to 8 minutes, until it’s just barely cuttable.
- Make sure you use a very sharp knife with a long enough blade to cut the squash in half or into wedges. Use a spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and clean out the fibrous strands that surround the seeds. Some recipes don’t require peeling or seeding until after cooking, which makes preparation much easier.
- Roasting is one of the best cooking methods for winter squash; it concentrates the sweetness of the flesh more than any other technique. Steaming adds moisture to drier-fleshed varieties such as the Kabocha. Avoid boiling; it yields waterlogged, tasteless flesh. As a general rule, it‘s better to slightly overcook winter squash than to undercook it.