Squash

The winter squash group includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut, spaghetti squash, ambercup, buttercup, hubbard, kabocha, banana, carnival, sweet dumpling, golden nugget, autumn cup…ect.  Winter squash, like other richly colored vegetables, provide an excellent source of carotenes.  Generally, the richer the color, the richer the concentration.  They also offer a very good source of vitamins B1 and C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, fiber, and potassium.  Winter squash are also a good source of vitamin B6 and niacin. Studies have shown that, due to their carotene properties, winter squash exert a protective effect against many cancers, particularly lung cancer.  Diets that are rich in carotenes (especially pumpkins) offer protection against cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.  Studies have also shown that pumpkin seeds are helpful in reducing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).   We think about winter squash as a very starchy vegetable – about 90% of its total calories come from carbohydrate, and about half of this carbohydrate is starch-like in its composition. However, recent research has made it clear that all starch is not the same, and the starch content of winter squash brings along with it some key health benefits. Many of the carbs in winter starch come from polysaccharides found in the cell walls. These polysaccharides include pectins – specially structured polysaccharides that in winter squash often include special chains of D-galacturonic acid called homogalacturonan. An increasing number of animal studies now show that these starch-related components in winter squash have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.

Seeds from winter squash make a great snack food, just like pumpkin seeds. If you scoop the pulp and seeds from inside the squash and separate out the seeds, you can place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and lightly roast them at 160-170°F (about 75°C) in the oven for 15-20 minutes. By roasting them for a relatively short time at a low temperature you can help minimize damage to their healthy oils. Linoleic acid (the polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (the same monounsaturated fatty acid that is plentiful in olive oil) account for about 75% of the fat found in the seeds.

Since summer squash (zucchini, cucumber…ect)  have a high water content, they are not as nutrient-dense as the winter varieties.  Summer squash still provide several nutritional benefits.  They are low in calories and provide a decent amount of vitamin C, potassium, and carotenes.     Studies have shown that juice made from summer squash is equal to juice made from pumpkins, leeks, and radishes in their ability to prevent cell mutations.  Summer squash are especially beneficial during the summer months due to their higher water content.  They protect against dehydration and the carotenes help to protect against the damaging effects of the sun.

Squash is a vegetable that might be especially important for us to purchase organic. Recent agricultural trials have shown that winter squash can be an effective intercrop for use in remediation of contaminated soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (pahs), including pyrene, fluoranthene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are unwanted contaminants. Pahs are among the contaminants that can be effectively pulled up out of the soil by squash plants. When squash is planted as a food crop (as opposed to a non-food crop that is being planted between food crop seasons to help improve soil quality), the farmer’s goal is definitely not to transfer soil contaminants like pahs up into the food. But some of that transfer seems likely to happen, given the effectiveness of squash in mobilizing contaminants like pahs from the soil. For this reason, you may want to make a special point of purchasing certified organic squash. Soils used for the growing of in certified organic foods are far less likely to contain undesirable levels of contaminants like pahs.

Acorn Squash

Easily found in supermarkets. As its name suggests, this winter squash is small and round shaped like an acorn. One of my favorite baking squashes, it’s easy to slice into halves and fill with butter. A small acorn squash weighs from 1 to 3 pounds, and has sweet, slightly fibrous flesh. Its distinct ribs run the length of its hard, blackish-green or golden-yellow skin. In addition to the dark green acorn, there are now golden and multi-colored varieties.

Available year round

Ambercup Squash

A relative of the buttercup squash that resembles a small pumpkin with orange skin. Bright orange flesh has a dry sweet taste. Peel it, cube the flesh, roast it, and serve like cut-up sweet potatoes. Has an extraordinarily long storage life.

Available June to November.

 Autumn Cup Squash

A hybrid semi-bush Buttercup/kabocha type dark green squash. Rich flavored flesh and high yields. Fruit size 6 inches with a weight of about 2 to 3 pounds.

Flesh is yellow/orange meat that is stringless, dry, and sweet.

Available September through December.

 Banana Squash

In shape and skin color, this winter squash is reminiscent of a banana. It grows up to two feet in length and about six inches in diameter. Its bright orange, finely-textured flesh is sweet. Banana squash is often available cut into smaller pieces.

Available year-round – peak season lasts summer through early fall.

 Butternut Squash

Easily found in supermarkets. Beige colored and shaped like a vase or a bell. This is a more watery squash and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor. Some people say it is like butterscotch. It weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. The oranger the color, the riper, drier, and sweeter the squash.  Butternut is a common squash used in making soup because it tends not to be stringy.

Available year-round – peak season lasts from early fall through winter.

 Buttercup Squash

Buttercup Squash are part of the Turban squash family (hard shells with turban-like shapes) and are a popular variety of winter squash. This squash has a dark-green skin, sometimes accented with lighter green streaks.

Has a sweet and creamy orange flesh. This squash is much sweeter than other winter varieties. Buttercup Squash can be baked, mashed, pureed, steamed, simmered, or stuffed and can replace Sweet Potatoes in most recipes.

Available year-round – peak season lasts from early fall through winter.

 

 Carnival Squash

Cream colored with orange spots or pale green with dark green spots in vertical stripes. Carnival Squash have hard, thick skins and only the flesh is eaten. It is sometimes labeled as a type of acorn squash.

The delicious yellow meat is reminiscent of sweet potatoes and butternut squash and can be baked or steamed then combined with butter and fresh herbs. Also great in soups.

Available year-round – is best late summer through early fall.

Delicata Squash

Also called Peanut squash and Bohemian squash. This is one of the tastier winter squashes, with creamy pulp that tastes a bit like corn and sweet potatoes. Size may range from 5 to 10 inches in length. The squash can be baked or steamed The thin skin is also edible.

The delicate squash is actually an heirloom variety, a fairly recent reentry into the culinary world. It was originally introduced by the Peter Henderson Company of New York City in 1894, and was popular through the 1920s. Then it fell into obscurity for about seventy-five years, possibly because of its thinner, more tender skin, which isn’t suited to transportation over thousands of miles and storage over months.

Available year-round – is best late summer through early fall. 

 

 Fairytale Pumpkin Squash

French name is “Musquee de Provence.” The fruits are flattened like a cheese but each rib makes a deep convolution. The Fairytale Pumpkin is a very unique eating and ornamental pumpkin. It’s thick but tender, and the deep orange flesh is very flavored, sweet , thick, and firm. It is 115 to 125 day pumpkin and takes a long time to turn to it’s cheese color. The distinctive coach-like shape and warm russet color make it perfect for fall decorating too.

This pumpkin is usually used for baking.  Cut it into pieces and bake in the oven.

Available September to November.

 

 Gold Nugget Squash

A variety of winter squash, which is sometimes referred to as an Oriental pumpkin that has the appearance of a small pumpkin in shape and color. It ranges in size from one to three pounds. Golden nugget squashes are small, weighing on average about 1 pound. Both the skin and the flesh are orange.

Gold Nugget Squash may be cooked whole or split lengthwise (removing seeds). Pierce whole squash in several places, and bake halved squash hollow side up.

Available year-round – is best season is late summer through early winter.


Grey and Green Hubbard  Squash

The extra-hard skins make them one of the best keeping winter squa

shes. These are very large and irregularly shaped, with a skin that is quite “warted” and irregular.
They range from big to enormous, have a blue/gray skin, and taper at the ends. Like all winter squash, they have an inedible skin, large, fully developed seeds that must be scooped out, and a dense flesh. Hubbard squash is often sold in pieces because it can grow to very  large sizes. The yellow flesh of these tends to be very moist and longer cooking times in the oven are needed. They are generally peeled and boiled, cut up and roasted, or cut small and steamed or sautéed. It’s perfect for pies.

Hubbard squash, if in good condition initially, can be successfully stored 6 months at 50 to 55 degree F. With 70% relative humidity. Less rot will develop in the Hubbard squash if stems are completely removed before storage. Hubbard squash and other dark-green-skinned squashes should not be stored near apples, as the ethylene from apples may cause the skin to turn orange-yellow.

Available year-round – peak season is early fall throughout winter.

Kabocha Squash (Also known as a Ebisu, Delica, Hoka, Hokkaido, or Japanese Pumpkin)

Kabocha is the generic Japanese word for squash, but refers most commonly to a squash of the buttercup type. This squash has a green, bluish-gray or a deep orange skin. The flesh is deep yellow.

Kobocha Squash may be cooked whole or split lengthwise (removing seeds). It has a rich sweet flavor, and often dry and flaky when cooked. Use in any dish in which buttercup squash would work.

Available year-round.

 Spaghetti Squash (also called vegetable spaghetti, vegetable marrow, or noodle squash)

A small, watermelon-shaped variety, ranges in size from 2 to 5 pounds or more. It has a golden-yellow, oval rind and a mild, nutlike flavor.

The yellowiest Spaghetti squash will be the ripest and best to eat. Those that are nearly white are not very ripe. Although it may seem counterintuitive, larger spaghetti squash are more flavorful than smaller ones.

When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti pasta.

To prepare spaghetti squash, cut the gourd in half lengthwise and remove the seeds, then bake or boil it until tender. Or, wrap it in plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 to 12 minutes. Once cooked, use a fork to rake out the “spaghetti-like” stringy flesh (all the way to the rind), and serve.

Spaghetti Squash can be stored at room temperature for about a month. After cutting, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days. Spaghetti squash also freezes well.

Available year-round – season early fall through winter.

 Sweet Dumpling Squash

This small, mildly sweet-tasting squash resembles a miniature pumpkin with its top pushed in. It has cream-colored skin with green specks. Weighing only about 7 ounces, it has sweet and tender orange flesh and is a great size for stuffing and baking as individual servings. Sweet dumplings are tiny but great for roasting and presenting whole.

Available throughout the fall.

Turban Squash

Named for its shape. Turban Squash has colors that vary from bright orange, to green or white. It has golden-yellow flesh and its taste is reminiscent to hazelnut. Has a bulblike cap swelling from its blossom end, come in bizarre shapes with extravagant coloration that makes them popular as harvest ornamentals.

It is popular for centerpieces, and its top can be sliced off so it can be hollowed and filled with soup. A larger variety of the buttercup squash, the turban has a bright orange-red rind. Its flesh and storage ability are comparable to the buttercup squash. Use in recipes that call or pie or sugar pumpkin.

Available year-round – season is late summer through early fall.

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