Your Small Kitchen Garden catches up with a series of posts about what went on in the garden this season while the kitchen gardener (Daniel) was busy writing his book Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry it, Too.
On February 12th of this year, the butternut squash from my small kitchen garden looked a little scary. Fortunately, just one fruit had gone soft; the others were in decent shape and we continued to eat them into March. I chucked the mushy one onto the compost heap.
I harvest a lot of winter squash from my small kitchen garden. Near the end of the season, squash vines cover nearly half of my planting bed. I love the flavor of squash, and I love its versatility: it works in both sweet and savory dishes, and you can cook it into many appealing textures.
But while squash’s culinary versatility is impressive, it has another terrific quality: it keeps well. I’d guess we call winter squash winter squash because of its durability: you harvest it in late autumn, and it keeps well into winter.
Proper Kitchen Garden Squash Stores
Most winter squashes keep best where it’s cool, dark, and dry… and by cool, I mean no colder than about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, store your winter squash in a single layer with no pieces touching other pieces. Relative humidity should be 60 to 80 percent and the temperature should be 50 to 55 degrees.
By March 24th of the year, we were down to our last butternut squash, and it was in reasonably good shape. Consider: harvested in October, and lying on the dining room floor for five months until March. Awesome!
Look closely at this five-month-old squash and you can see wrinkling and a touch of blotchiness; I’d never pay for this in a grocery store. However, the deterioration is (mostly) skin deep. With such minor surface blemishes, the squash meat inside is likely to be in decent shape.
Fortunately, air tends to be dry in winter, so low humidity shouldn’t be hard to achieve. Unfortunately, you might figure your basement for the ideal temperature, but many basements remain damp year-round.
Here’s the good news: if you keep the temperature in your house around 68 degrees, there are probably places on the floor that, in winter, are very close to 55 degrees. For example, you might have a rarely-used guest room that you don’t heat except when you have company. Or, the floor along an outside wall or under a picture window could be significantly colder than the air at chest level.
My Small Kitchen Garden Squash Store
Much to my wife’s consternation, I’ve left a heap of butternut squash on our dining room floor each fall for the past several years. The dining room has a double-wide sliding glass door onto our porch, so the floor is naturally cool in winter. My mistake, of course (besides annoying my wife), is that I heap the squash. However, I’ve had very satisfactory results. The photos tell the story.
Peeled, my well-aged squash looks as good as a freshly-harvested squash. There are differences, however…
Halved down the center, this well-aged squash from my small kitchen garden reveals evidence of aging. The fibers that hold the seeds have dried a bit and shrunk, and the squash meat, itself has dried giving rise to air pockets. Still, there are no soft spots; no rot. Cooked, the only apparent difference between this and freshly-harvested squash will be sweetness; the older squash may sweeter than a young squash.
I encourage you to keep your own winter squash into the winter. Here’s a simple strategy to employ: Estimate how many whole squash you’ll eat by March, and store that many along with a few extra (in case some spoil). If you have any more than you expect to eat by March, freeze them or can them and they’ll last until your next harvest. I explain how to freeze winter squash in Freeze Winter Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden, and how to can it in Can Squash or Pumpkin from Your Home Kitchen Garden.
Share Your Squash Stories!
I’m very enthusiastic about winter squash, and would love hear your squash stories: Which varieties do you grow? How do you store them? Do you have unusual ways to prepare them? Please leave your story in a comment.