Produce of the Month: Winter Squash

 

In July, we told you all about summer squash. Now that the season has turned from warm and sunny to cool and–well, still sunny–winter squashes are found all over the farmers’ markets in L.A.! There are hundreds of varieties of winter squash that come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors.

Winter squash from Rocky Canyon Farms at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

Photo credit: Kat Thomas

Background & History

Squashes are a New World vegetable that are thought to have originated in northern Argentina. People living in that area brought it to the other parts of North, Central, and South America. Europeans were not introduced to squash until the 16th century.

Characteristics & Types

Unlike summer squash, winter squash is slower-growing, hard-rinded, and usually asymmetric vegetable. They can be stored for the long winter months after being harvested, lending them to be named “winter” squashes.  General categories of winter squash include:

  • Acorn

  • Butternut

  • Spaghetti

  • Delicata

  • True Winter Squash

Pumpkins, a winter squash that comes in many varieties itself, is not a specific type of squash but is more of a name given to a number of varieties. What is a pumpkin and what isn’t depends on who you are talking to!

Tips & How to Enjoy

When selecting winter squash at the farmers’ market, choose squashes with hard rinds that are heavy for their size, which will ensure a thick wall of ripe, edible flesh.  It doesn’t have to look pretty, but the rind of your squash should not have cuts, punctures, sunken or moldy spots, or any other signs of decay. Store your squash in a cool, dry place. You can keep cut raw or cooked squash in the refrigerator for four or five days, and cooked squash for up to a year in the freezer (though we suspect a delicious  farm-fresh squash won’t go uneaten for that long).

Boiling, sautéing, steaming, and microwaving are all perfectly acceptable ways to prepare winter squash, but we recommend baking squash halves or chunks to bring out their natural sweetness. Halve your squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and strings, and place the entire halves or chunks onto a foil-lined baking sheet with about ¼” of water. Bake at between 350° and 400° until the squash is tender all the way through.

Fun Fact

We enjoy winter squash when they’re fully mature (hence the hard rind) but eat summer squash (like zucchini) when still immature.

Sources:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/squash.html

http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu/main/showVarieties.php?searchCriteria=winter+squash&searchIn=0&crop_id=0&sortBy=overallrating&order=DESC

http://www.udc.edu/docs/causes/online/Winter%20Squash%2018.pdf

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