Eating the last of the winter squash- Storing these nutritional powerhouses all winter long!
Storing squash all winter long
Early spring is famine time in many home gardens. Winter food storage is running out and spring crops are not yet. Not in our house! Ever since I started growing large amounts of winter squashes, its become a huge part of our lives, especially in early spring. Largely because we keep our winter squash in our living room its also become an unintended but welcome part of my identity. Visitors have come to expect dining in the midst of onlooking squashes of all shapes and sizes.
Storing winter squash is easier than fresh storage of any other crop because they don't require any processing and love the conditions we keep for ourselves. Stop trying to store them in garages, cellars, or pantries and move them into the house! Ideal temperatures for winter squash storage are from 50-70 degrees F, the same temperature we keep for ourselves. I first learned about growing and storing winter squash from Carol Deppe's Resilient Gardener and have been enjoying and experimenting with these nutritional powerhouses ever since.
Harvesting winter squash
While creating the ideal conditions for storing squash is easy, harvesting and post-harvest curing details are more nuanced. Harvesting winter squash at the right time improves both eating quality and storability. Because I have relatively short, 120 day seasons, most of my squash end up staying in the field as long as they can. I am trying to mature the seeds inside because I am obviously just as interested in the seed crop, and mature seeds means mature, storable fruit. So while I don't have to make decisions about when to harvest because the coming frost does that for me, it's good to have a general sense of what maturity in a squash means.
If you harvested around the last frost date you'll most likely end up with a range of maturities in your crop. Squash which are obviously immature will be bland and won't keep long, so I usually give those to the chickens or cows. I cut them up and bake them; they don't seem to go for the raw hard squash chunks. You can tell a squash has reached this maturity when:
-The color has developed to the depth that is true to the variety, ideally on all sides- take special notice of the side resting on the soil.
-The skin should be so hard that you are not able to dent it with your fingernail. Immature squash will have skin like summer squash; its soft and easy to dent with your fingernail. You won't be able to dent mature winter squash with your fingernail. This hard outer skin lends to their keeping quality. The easiest way to tell how ripe a squash is is by the skin.
-The stem should be hard and drying down.
-Take your time when harvesting, handling the squashes gently and trying not to stack them too deep in your cart or truck bed. Bruised squash don't last long and bruises generally aren't visible until their rotting.
-Cut generous, 6-8” stems and leave them intact. Don't lift the squash by it's stem! The connection between the stem and squash is the most common place deterioration begins. Invariable some stems will break off in the harvesting process- eat these first.
Curing winter squash
Cure squash after harvest in a warm, sunny location for about 2 weeks. 80-90 degrees F is ideal for this process. We use our greenhouse, but since most people don't have these conditions in the fall this step can be fudged by placing the squash in the warmest, sunniest place you have (where it will not freeze at night of course.) Rotate the side facing up after 1 week. During this process, natural pores in the squash skin will seal. I have heard you can also rub the skin with olive oil to artificially seal these pores- but I've never needed to try that. If you don't have a good spot for curing this might be a good idea.
1. Sort by type:
In general, smaller types like acorn and delicata keep for less time than larger squashes, with butternuts being the longest keepers, so as a general rule sort the squash so you eat the smaller ones first.
2. Watch the skin:
Check the surface of the squash for soft spots, discoloration, or mold. You can cut around these spots and eat most of the squash if you catch them in time. Check often as these spots spread to the rest of the squash quickly.
3. Know that starches are converting to sugars: Towards the end of their optimum storage time, squashes that are still very edible and with great interior color will be softer and more watery. This is fine to eat, but taste and texture have deteriorated some as starches have been turned into sugars during the storage process.