Icon of winter squash

This hard-shelled vining fruit is a mainstay of indigenous American foodways. Beloved today for its sweet taste, soft texture and filling nutrition, winter squash was traditionally consumed in its entirety, with flesh and seeds roasted for food, and shells dried out for use as containers and water vessels.

Variety of winter squash.

SEASONAL in Southern California

History

Native to Mexico and Central America, winter squash were used to pioneer the method of “companion planting,” in which crops were planted in pairs to contribute to each other’s growth. In the American southwest, winter squash, corn and beans were known as the Three Sisters, and planted in a system known as the milpa. Carried across the Atlantic by European invaders, winter squash was embraced by people around the Mediterranean Basin, and eventually carried to Asia by Portuguese traders in the 16th century.

Nutrition

supplied beta carotene, Omega 3’s and Potassium

Storage

Unpeeled, uncut winter squash can be kept for up to 3 months in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location. Cut and peeled squash can be kept in a sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper for up to 5 days.

Preparation

Winter squash is one of the easiest vegetables to prepare: simply slice in half, remove seeds, and roast at high heat until flesh is soft enough to scrape out of the skin. Squash can also be peeled and cubed before being cooked. Starchy varieties like kabocha and kuri are best for frying and baking, while dense varieties such as pumpkin and acorn squash are better for baking or steaming, and the softer butternut and delicata are ideal for purées, soups, stews and curries.

Cooking

Cut winter squash down the middle, remove seeds, and roast at 450 for about 60 minutes, or until squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly and scoop flesh out of skin. Add cooked squash to a high-speed blender with sautéed onions and garlic, a whole apple (seeds removed), and enough vegetable broth to barely cover. Add your favorite spices such as curry and garam masala, cumin and chile, or cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Add a dash of cream or coconut milk, if desired. Process in a blender until mixture is thick and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve topped with roasted squash seeds.

Pro Tips

Winter squash seeds can be easily removed using a melon baller or ice cream scoop in place of a spoon.

Acorn Squash

The acorn squash is technically classified with summer squashes, but is popularly considered a winter squash because of its hard shell. It descends from a squash grown by the Arikara people of North Dakota, but was passed off by an unscrupulous seed vendor in the 1920s as a novel variety from Copenhagen, leading to its alternative name of Danish squash.

Butternut Squash

Perhaps the best known of winter squash, this smooth-skinned, hourglass-shaped variety contains firm, sweet yellow-orange flesh. The squash was developed in the 1940s by an amateur plant breeder, who described its taste as being “smooth as butter and sweet as a nut.”

Butternut Squash

Perhaps the best known of winter squash, this smooth-skinned, hourglass-shaped variety contains firm, sweet yellow-orange flesh. The squash was developed in the 1940s by an amateur plant breeder, who described its taste as being “smooth as butter and sweet as a nut.”

Delicata Squash

An oblong-shaped varietal notable for its thin edible skin, this delicately sweet squash does not need to be peeled before cooking. Also known as Bohemian squash or peanut squash, delicata almost disappeared from use after the Great Depression, but were successfully rebred in the early 2000s.

Kabocha Squash

A pumpkin-shaped Japanese winter squash with nubbly, rough skin, a starchy, sweet potato-like flesh, and large, plump seeds that are good for roasting.

Kuginut Squash

A “designer” squash variety developed by seed pioneers Row 7, chef Dan Barber and the chain eatery Sweetgreen, this butternut-kabocha hybrid has sweet, creamy-textured orange flesh that includes with hints of vanilla and orange zest.

Kuri Squash

This red, teardrop-shaped squash has nutty, faintly spicy flesh with a slightly dry texture. Native to Japan, the kuri squash is believed to be a descendant of the Hubbard squash, which was brought shortly after Japan opened its borders in the late 1800s.

Long Pie Pumpkin

An unusual heirloom pumpkin with a mottled green and orange skin and a long, cylindrical shape, this squash dates back to the 1800s, and was rescued from extinction by Washington plant breeder John Navazio. Its high sugar content and virtually stringless flesh makes it the perfect pie pumpkin.

Sugar Pie Pumpkin

A miniature pumpkin that rarely grows larger than 4 pounds, the Sugar Pie is believed to be the original pie pumpkin enjoyed at the first Thanksgiving. Traditional use dictates hollowing out the Sugar Pie, filling it with milk, honey and spices, and baking over an open fire.

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