The Autumn Harvest: How To Store and Cook With Winter Squash (plus recipes) | Ready Nutrition (2024)

One of my favorite things about fall is the abundance of winter squashes and all the delicious recipes one can make with them. Unlike their summer cousins, zucchini and yellow crookneck, winter squashes can be stored for two to three months if handled and kept properly without significant loss to quality. They lend themselves to cold weather dishes beautifully, too, whether roasted, sautéed, cubed and added to soups and stews, or mashed.

The most readily available squash in grocery stores are sugar pumpkins, butternut, acorn, and spaghetti varieties, but don’t limit yourself to the ones that are familiar- experiment with different varieties and have fun. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a nice winter squash. Many of the lesser known varieties can be found at farmers’ markets.

Harvesting and Storing Winter Squash

In order to store them for months, be sure to select the ones that are blemish or bruise-free. They should also have an intact peduncle (stem) of about 1-inch for squash and 3 to 4 inches for sugar pumpkins. If any are missing their peduncle, make sure to use them quickly. The concave area at the top of the squash where the stem used to make them susceptible to molds and fungus.

If you’re harvesting from your own garden, don’t handle or harvest the squash while they’re wet and don’t let the harvested fruit get wet. Cut the fruit from the vine (allowing appropriate stem length on the fruit) using kitchen or pruning shears, brush off any blossom still clinging to the end and any dirt chunks that might be stuck to them. Space them far enough apart that each fruit gets adequate air flow around it. The best temperature for curing is warm days between 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you think nighttime temperatures are going to dip below 40 degrees or so, move your squash indoors to finish curing. Frost can sweeten the fruit, but it can also dramatically reduce storage life.

Curing the squash gets rid of excess water which creates several benefits:

  • During the curing process, the skin hardens and creates a protective layer
  • It concentrates the sugars in the fruit making it sweeter
  • It reduces the chances of rot

A harder skin also helps to slow moisture loss (respiration) during storage which helps preserve the quality of the fruit from both an aesthetic and nutritional perspective.

Once your fruit has cured, check them again for any signs of blemishes or bruises and to make sure the stems are still securely attached. Set aside any that aren’t in perfect condition and use those first or can them using the pressure canning method. Squash store best at around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and at about 50 to 70% relative humidity. Cooler temperatures, like those in your refrigerator, can cause chilling injuries to the fruit and shorten storage life just like a frost does. Higher temps or higher humidity can encourage mold and mildew growth.

Don’t wash the squash! If there are still dirt chunks stuck to the squash, use a soft rag to gently wipe them away. Always make sure your squash is dry before storing it. Carefully stack your squash to avoid bruising or breaking the stems, and don’t stack more than about three feet high. Any higher and the weight of the squash on the top will squish the squash on the bottom. I don’t have a root cellar at my house here in California, but since I live above the snowline in the Sierras, my outbuildings can get too cold to store them in without damage. We use wood heat in the main living area of the house and I’ve found that a back bedroom, with the door shut to keep the heat from the woodstove out, stays at just the right temperature. Also, if you’ve put up fresh apples, don’t store them with your squash. The ethylene gas that apples give off makes everything else ripen (read: rot) faster.

I have a confession to make: cutting open hard squashes scares the beejebus out of me. I’m always afraid I’m going to lose my grip and slice my fingers clean off. Yes, I know I can get a very nice Japanese cleaver like the one shown here, but I already own a vintage cleaver and many nice knives. Don’t laugh- my solution is a hatchet. Yes, the same hatchet I use to make kindling. It makes an inelegant cut, but pretty isn’t what I’m after. I just want to cut the dang thing in half (or pieces) and get it in my belly. If the company is coming over, I use my vintage cleaver, a sturdy and thick cutting board to rest everything on, and a kitchen mallet like the one shown here. I give the squash a firm whack with the cleaver first to see the blade and then use the mallet to hammer the cleaver through the squash the rest of the way.

Five Delicious Butternut Squash Recipes

This is especially helpful when I have several imperfect squashes that need to be canned instead of going into winter storage. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation,the only way to safely can winter squashes is to cube them and use a pressure canner. However, there are many recipes that one can make and either freeze the finished product or can it. One of my favorites is a Butternut soup base recipe found here. This recipe for Pickled Butternut is surprisingly good when warmed and mashed and spread over cold roast beef.

This recipe, for Hearty Chicken Stew with Butternut and Quinoa, can be doubled and the leftover is frozen for later use.

Acorn Squash with Kale and Sausage makes a beautiful presentation for dinner parties while still providing a filling entrée.

Going meatless and gluten-free? This recipe for Spaghetti Squash Alfredo Boats is just the ticket for cold winter nights.Sweet Dumpling squash, with their small size, make the perfect serving for a side dish. Stuffed with mushrooms, wild rice, and apple sausage, they pair perfectly with this recipe for Grilled Venison Loinfrom my favorite game chef, Hank Shaw, over at the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Trying to sneak more veggies into a picky eater’s diet? The Spaghetti Squash is for you! Once boiled or baked, this squash has a stringy, mild-flavored flesh that is very much like the pasta it’s named for. Top with marinara sauce and some grated parmesan cheese and your kids will eat it up.

The Blue Hubbard squash has the longest storage life of all the squashes. This beauty can weigh 15 to 40 (FORTY!) pounds and has a sweet, fine-grained, golden flesh. These are excellent simply roasted with apples, nuts, butter, and maple syrup or honey. To prepare, start by cutting the Hubbard in half and scooping out the guts. Core and chop four or five apples and about one cup or so of nuts (I like pecans, but walnuts and almonds work just as well). Combine the chopped apples and nuts with about ¾ C maple syrup or homey and about a half a cup melted butter (save a little-melted butter to brush the squash with). Feel free to play with the amount of the ingredients until you find the ratio you like. Place the halved squash in a baking dish with about ½ inch or so of water in the bottom of it. Scoop the Apple and nut mixture into the center of the cut squash, brush the cut side with melted butter, and cover with foil and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. The meat of the squash should be tender when done like a baked potato.

Winter squashes come in a variety of sizes, textures, and flavors and if stored properly, make an excellent winter food store. They’re easy to incorporate into dishes or make excellent entrees. Check out your local farmers’ market to see their wonderful variety.

Stay tuned!

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on November 26th, 2015

The Autumn Harvest: How To Store and Cook With Winter Squash (plus recipes) | Ready Nutrition (2024)


How do you store squash after harvest? ›

Pumpkins and winter squashes can then be stored in a well-ventilated position at a temperature under 15°C (60°F) and no colder than 10°C (50°F). Watch for signs of rot, and remove any affected fruit immediately. Depending on the cultivar and conditions provided in storage, fruits should keep for up to six months.

What is the best winter squash for storage? ›

Hubbard & Butternut

Fruits are best after 1–2 months of storage, and will keep 4–6 months. (NOTE: Because of its smaller size, 'Butterscotch PMR' is an exception; it can be consumed at harvest, and is best within 3 months of harvest.)

How do you keep winter squash from rotting? ›

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. The one exception, again, is Acorn squash, which should be kept at temperatures less than 55. Higher temperatures cause the flesh to become stringy.

How long does winter squash keep? ›

Depending on the type of pumpkin or squash, it should last 2 to 6 months when stored at the ideal temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit; a cool basem*nt can work well. Under ideal storage conditions, acorn squash can last up to 2 months, butternuts 2-to-3 months, and hubbarbs 5 to 6 months.

What is the best way to store squash for long term? ›

Storage Conditions

Squash store best at an even 50°F in a dark place.

Does squash last longer in the fridge or on the counter? ›

Store squash ideally between 41 to 50 °F with a relative humidity of 95%. Under these conditions, squash is acceptable for up to 2 weeks. Squash stored at refrigeration temperatures of 41 °F should have a shelf life of 4 days.

How do you store cooked winter squash? ›

How to Freeze Cooked Squash
  1. Scoop squash purée into an ice cube tray, then place it in the freezer for about an hour, or until frozen.
  2. Transfer squash purée cubes to a plastic bag, and store in the freezer for up to three months. Label the bag with the date to keep track of its age.
Jun 1, 2023

Should I wash winter squash before storing? ›

Food Safety and Storage

Scrub winter squash with a vegetable brush under cool running water before cooking or cutting. Do not use soap. Do not wash squash before storing. Keep squash away from raw meat and meat juices to prevent cross-contamination.

How do you wash winter squash for storage? ›

Always wash away the dirt, grime and mildew, before storing, and many “experts” suggest you wash your pumpkins and squash in a very mild chlorine bleach solution consisting of 2 TBS of bleach to one gallon of water.

How can you tell if winter squash is bad? ›

Keep your eye out for any brown spots or blemishes; these can indicate the start of spoiling. Any soft spots or slimy areas are also a sign that your squash has gone bad. Old squash tends to have soft flesh, leathery skin, and a hollow feel. And, of course, any spots of mold mean it's time to toss your squash.

Can you freeze winter squash? ›

Pumpkins and squash can be preserved for later use by freezing, canning or drying. They should have a hard rind and stringless mature pulp. Small size pumpkins (sugar or pie varieties) make better products.

How long will squash last after picking? ›

Winter squash requires a long growing season and proper care to get a good quality fruit that holds up well in storage. Depending on the variety, winter squash can last for 1–6 months if harvested, cured, and stored carefully.

Can you eat too much winter squash? ›

While the high beta-carotene content in squash can provide many benefits, studies also suggest that consuming too much of this compound can increase the risk of lung cancer. In addition, some types of prepared squash include high amounts of added sugar.

How long does cooked winter squash last? ›

Store cooked squash for 3-5 days in the refrigerator or mash and freeze for up to 1 year. To freeze: Peel squash, remove seeds and cut into pieces. You can roast before freezing or freeze raw to cook later.

What temperature is too cold for winter squash? ›

Most winter squash have pretty good frost tolerance, as long as they don't get exposed to a hard freeze where the temperature might get down to 28° for more than a couple hours. If a heavy frost or freeze is predicted, you can cover your squash with old blankets or a tarp to provide some protection.

Should squash be washed before storing? ›

Food Safety and Storage

Scrub winter squash with a vegetable brush under cool running water before cooking or cutting. Do not use soap. Do not wash squash before storing. Keep squash away from raw meat and meat juices to prevent cross-contamination.

What to do with squash plants at end of season? ›

The best thing you can do is toss the remains in the compost bin, provided they show no signs of fungal damage. This way, you can use it to feed the next season's batch of garden veggies!

How long does squash last once cut? ›

Butternut squash can be huge, sometimes larger than one recipe calls for. Once peeled, squash needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Cut squash will last up to a week in an airtight container like plastic storage containers. If your butternut squash is cut and cooked, aim to use it within 3 or 4 days.

Do squash continue to ripen after picked? ›

If a hard frost is forecasted, it is probably a good idea to harvest your pumpkins and squash. Luckily, if you have to pick these before they have fully changed color, they will continue to ripen off the vine.

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