Let’s Talk: Winter Squash

I adore winter squash for two reasons. One: they taste delicious. Two: They keep forever with a minimal amount of prep and zero processing. They take up a lot of room and

Time To Maturity: Squash can get a little long in the tooth to mature. You’ll notice in your seed catalogs that many are well over 100 days, sometimes up to 125 days, to maturity. Those are all FAR too long for me, so again, I stick to varieties closer to the 90 day mark (which I often stretch to 100 days because they can take a bit of cold both early and late). There are plenty of well known and delicious varieties that fit this timeline so I never feel hemmed in- though I’ll never be able to grow that glorious Musquee De Provence. Sigh.

Species and Pests: Squash Vine Borer is a problem in my garden, but I don’t have a problem (yet) with Squash Mosaic Virus. This means I’m on the look out for varieties of specific species that are less appealing to the vine borer.

Winter squash come in four species:
Cucurbita maxima: Buttercups, North Georgia Candyroasters, Hubbard, Turban, & Kabocha
Cucurbita argyrosperma: Cushaw varieties
Cucurbita moschata: Butternut, Long Island Cheese, & most larger ‘pumpkin’ varieties
Cucurbita pepo: Acorn, Delicata, Spaghetti, Kakai, New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin, & Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin

There aren’t any varieties that are 100% resistant to Vine Borers, but Moschata varieties seem to do best. Though I’ve not had recent trouble with my acorn squash (Pepo variety) either. Therefore, when I’m searching out new varieties to try, I tend to narrow my search down to Moschata varieties and work from there.

Size/Yield: This one is a biggie for me. One year I bought North Georgia Candy Roaster squash and, while delicious, I didn’t pay attention to the size of these babies. TEN POUNDS EACH! Whoops. There was no realistic way for Rich and I alone to eat one of these, let alone a whole harvest of them. So much went to waste just because we couldn’t eat squash for every meal, every week. It was my fault, I got lost in the talk of taste & short maturity time and didn’t think logistics too. Keep an eye out for this and think about how you will use them- plan accordingly.

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Use: How do you like to cook your squash? I like to roast them whole and eat them scooped out and plain (with butter of course, I’m not a heathen!). I don’t do much soup or sauce making with them, only with leftovers. This means a firm, drier flesh is much more important to me. I’ve had watery varieties in the past and they don’t cook up well and the flavor can be a bit weak- but they are great for soups. So, think about how  you want to use them and look for terms like dense and dry for roasting, look for juicy and tender for soups and pies.

Key Words: I like my squash sweet. If they grow sweet, I never have to add brown sugar or maple syrup or whatever other nonsense recipes tell me to do. I just roast them and dig in. This is why I grow Acorn squash and Long Island Cheese often, they are naturally quite sweet but firm enough to withstand roasting. However, if you want more savory, just look for descriptions lacking the telltale word ‘sweet’. Keep size in mind and many descriptions will give indicators of how they are supposed to be used (pie, roasters, soup, etc).

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Other: I often find, with squash in particular, that some descriptions aren’t informative enough or focus too much on looks. If you are interested in a variety, don’t hesitate to look it up with another grower (even one you don’t intend to purchase form) or a good old Google search to see if you can get more information about how the plant grows and how it tastes.

My Favorites:

  • Carnival Acorn (Pepo)- this variety is both prolific, beautiful, hardy and incredibly delicious. I cannot recommend it enough! I’d venture to say if you only grow one winter squash, make it this one. (Not everyone carries this one, but Fedco Seeds does)
  • Potimarron (Maxima)- These are a lovely dark orange and only grow to about 3-4lbs. They taste lovely and are a perfect variety for smaller households.
  • Long Island Cheese (Moschata)- These tend to grow smaller than average here, but the flavor is superb and they are excellent keepers.

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What I’ve Grown Before:

  • North Georgia Candy Roaster (Maxima)- These grow HUGE and the flavor is just so-so. At 95 days to maturity, we were pushing the boat out a bit, so we won’t likely grow this one again.
  • Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert (Maxima)- A delicious little squash, very similar to the flavor of Carnival Acorn, but less prolific.
  • Kogigu (Moschata)- Nice dense, intensely flavored squash. They’ve never produced super well for me though.
  • Table Queen Acorn (Pepo)- Good traditional acorn squash.
  • Waltham Butternut (Moschata)- Good producer and traditional butternut flavor. They didn’t keep as well as I had hoped.
  • Galeux d’Eysines (Maxima)- Beautiful, warty pumpkin but we found the flavor to be bland and the texture to be quite watery.

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