Did you know that winter squash is one of the easiest produce types to preserve in raw form? That some varieties will store on the shelf for 6+ months with very little effort on your part? Let me show you how to prepare and keep winter squash, so you can feast on it long after cold winter days (and increased grocery store prices) descend!
Identify Winter Squash
The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of squash: summer and winter varieties. Summer squashes are delicate, thin-skinned and ripen throughout the summer. Zucchini or marrow, anyone?
Winter squashes ripen in late autumn, have firm flesh and thick, hard skins. In her book Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls references playing in the attic on and among winter squashes and pumpkins. Yep. They’re that tough!
Aren’t sure if you planted winter or summer squash? Check the back of your seed packet; it ought to specify!
Perhaps you ordered from a seed catalog? Just read the description under the squash type. It’ll tell you everything you need to know!
When to Harvest Your Winter Squash
Winter squash should be harvested in late autumn. Most gardeners prefer to leave their squash on the vine until after the first frost. There are two reasons for this!
Reason 1: They’re Easier to Find
Squash vines are wide-spread, with large, full leaves. Small winter squashes can be hard to find underneath all that foliage! However, once the first frost has killed the plant, there’s no guessing or pawing through prickly leaves. If there’s a squash to be found, you’ll know it!
Reason 2: You’ll Have Squash Later Into the Year
As soon as you remove any type of produce from the parenting plant, it starts to break down. Most gardeners leave squashes on the vine for as long as possible so that this vegetable’s limited storage life reaches further into the winter season! Makes sense, doesn’t it?
How to Harvest Winter Squash
Because squashes are so large, you’ll want a wagon or wheelbarrow to harvest into. Don’t be afraid to stack these round fruits on top of one another! Remember? They’re tough and can take it!
Pick Squashes With the Stem On
Always harvest winter squash with the stem! Separating it from the fruit leaves open, exposed flesh that is then susceptible to mold and bacteria. If you want your squash to last longer in storage, leave at least an inch of stem attached.
Allow Time for Skins to Heal
After you’ve brought everything home in your wagon or wheelbarrow, winter squash should be kept in mildly warm place for 7-10 days. This gives the skin opportunity to heal any nicks or scratches that occurred as you handled them.
It’s quite fascinating to think that a vegetable can heal itself after it’s been harvested! But that’s exactly what winter squash does! If you’ve never witnessed this before, set one aside just so you can watch the progress.
If your winter squashes are quite dirty, you may want to gently dry-dust each one before putting it in storage. Spread squashes out on a shelf, an old table or even on the floor in an out-of-the-way place. If you’re going for long-term storage, be sure to leave space between each one! No touching!
If you do these things, winter squash will keep just about anywhere, so long as they’re stored in a dry location. One thing you should know is that winter squashes don’t keep well in a moist environment! A basement cold room, a back entryway, an attic or even a cool bedroom is ideal.
Don’t have a cool place? That’s ok! Winter squashes will still keep for several month’s time. But do try to keep them away from direct heat!
That’s How You Do It!
It sounds easy because it is! There’s nothing so rewarding as serving your own, home-raised squash throughout the winter months! Now that you know how to prepare and keep winter squash, go ahead and give it a try!
And tell me, what’s your favorite way to prepare winter squash?