This is the time of year when gardens begin to hibernate. Their glory days of lush, vibrant green growth are in the rear view mirror as they finally succumb to the cooler weather.
As the summer crops rapidly lose their luster, winter varieties are ripening to a full harvest. Now I don’t know about you, but this is my first year growing winter squash at both work and in my home garden, and I have no idea what to do with it. I know, I should have applied more forethought, but everybody gets excited about new varieties at the beginning of the season, as I did with Johnny’s Shokichi Shiro, so here I am now—storing winter squash.
Cut to me in the field harvesting all this squash wondering to myself, “What the heck am I going to do with these things? There must be some kind of storage prep, right?” I can’t say I was surprised to learn that there is, of course, a process to get your squash ready for its longest possible shelf life. That being said, I am about to share with you one way to prepare your winter storage squash to last well into late spring, if you don’t eat it all first!
We grew a few different varieties out here on the farm, High Mowing’s Jack Be Little, and Brulee Butternut. The first to begin ripening up for storage were the JBL’s, with Brulee not far behind and both varieties seem to be prolific producers.
Upon harvest, the curing and storage procedure is quite simple. First, don’t pick any squash with soft spots or damage to the skin—they’re meant to be eaten right away. Next, wipe off the squash to remove dirt but don’t submerge or soak the fruit, you can clean it thoroughly before you eat it.
Then you need to look for a warm, sunny space. Be sure it won’t get too hot or too cold as the temperature outside fluctuate. You’re looking for a place that’s 70-85 degrees with proper air flow. Now you leave your squash to sit out over a span of 7-14 days to cure.
This is when the science happens. Curing, or drying out the fruit, lets excess moisture in the squash evaporate and slows the fruit’s respiration rate. This is critical for long-term storage. As water evaporates, the natural sugars are concentrated and the squash becomes sweeter tasting. The skin will harden into more of a rind than a skin that protects the fruits from natural decay. This helps preserve the fruits for your enjoyment long after the snow has covered the ground.
Once cured, store your squash in a cooler, dark location with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight. Oh, and store squash away from other fruits that release ethylene gas—apples, pears, etc. Check your squash stash frequently (and don’t forget to use it!) to look for signs of aging. Squash can last up to 6 months if stored properly.
Each squash is a bit different when it comes to curing time. Blue Hubbard, Buttercup, Butternut, and Spaghetti squash require curing time, but Acorn squash should not be cured. You can tell if your squash is cured when you press a thumbnail lightly into the skin. You’ll see a fingernail-shaped bruise or cut if the squash is uncured or barely even a dent when the skin is thick and the squash is cured. And if you’re cautious about storing (canning or fermenting too), the National Center for Home Food Preservation has clear guidelines for long-term food storage.
Ready to stock up on some squash? Shop with us on Nov. 5, 2022, as we kickoff the winter farmers’ market season with our Squash Showcase Event from 9am-12pm.