Posts Tagged ‘butternut squash’
I’ve written about squash flowers repeatedly in this and other blogs. Every morning in late summer, a new crop of flowers emerges. Blossoms remain full and open in the cool of morning, but they start to fade in the afternoon. If a female flower doesn’t get pollinated on the morning it opens, it probably won’t get pollinated.
Winter squashes are among my favorite harvests from my small kitchen garden. In late summer, winter squash plants put on a spectacular show as they blanket the planting bed and pop out dozens of bright orange blossoms. Squash fruits grow from miniature to full-size in a matter of a week or two—and for some types of winter squash, those fruits can be ginormous.
Winter squashes have rich, earthy flavors that work well sweet or savory… but that easily seduce you into mixing sweet and savory in the same dish. One of my favorite ways to prepare squash is to grill it with a light sprinkling of salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, and brown sugar.
Winter Squash is Resilient and Durable
There’s a benefit of winter squash that many kitchen gardeners don’t consider when planning their gardens: some winter squashes are amazingly durable and resistant to damage. These characteristics make winter squashes extremely low-maintenance, long-term storage food products.
I picked this squash shortly after a small animal had chewed it up around the stem as you can see in the photo on the left. I set the squash to cure where it stayed warm and dry, and about a month later the damage had healed (as you can see in the photo on the right)! Even after such a sketchy beginning, the squash held up nicely until it suffered a new malady in April.
Six months after harvest from my small kitchen garden, this neck pumpkin was as healthy as I could hope. Yes, it’s the squash from the earlier pair of photos. Sadly, here after 6 months, gouges began to appear where last summer’s damage had healed.
As I explained in an earlier post titled Store Butternut Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden, winter squash left on the floor of a mildly cool and dry room can keep from harvest through mid spring. In fact, even today (May 1) I have a few neck pumpkins on my dining room floor; they’ll be nearly as good eating today as they would have been last November.
As you’ll see in the photos, winter squashes protect themselves from damage. I harvested a neck pumpkin last fall that had all kinds of tooth marks from a small rodent. Many of those marks went through the squash’s skin. Within a month, all the holes in that squash had healed; the fruit had grown scabs and new skin even without assistance from an attached, healthy plant.
It became apparent that something was eating my carefully-stored winter squash… and it should have been no surprise: the residential rhubarb inspector of past blog posts is also a residential winter squash chomper. The year in which a puppy joins your household is not a good year to store winter squash on your dining room floor.
New Winter Squash Malady
While my winter squashes have kept well on my dining room floor, in April they began to show signs of an unlikely malady. Scratches appeared near the stem ends, and eventually whole sections of skin simply vanished. The cause became clear: PUPPY! Our chocolate lab puppy, Nutmeg, apparently likes the flavor of squash as much as I do.
Sadly, the squashes she has chewed aren’t healing; exposed damp surfaces have grown mold.
So, I offer an observation to amend my earlier post about storing winter squash: make sure the cool, dry floor where your store your squash is out of reach of family pets.
Our residential rhubarb inspector doubles as a residential dishwasher inspector. She gave me this look when I asked her if she had any idea what might be damaging the winter squash. It’s kind of impressive that so many puppies make it to adulthood.
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.
My small kitchen garden sometimes pushes up so many butternut squashes that there’s no chance my family will eat all of them. This inspired me to set some on the grill. Now grilled quash provides a fine counterpoint to the baked, mashed, and cubed squash dishes I’d repeated so many times over the years.
My small kitchen garden sometimes produces way more of a particular vegetable than my family will eat. Worse: when we have too much of a type of vegetable on hand, it’s easy to fall into the trap of preparing it the same way again and again.
This happened a few years ago with butternut squash, and I developed a great urge for a quick but different way to prepare it. After some thought, I decided to exercise my grill: it seemed that a big slab of squash would perform much like a slab of beef or pork. The result made me very happy and I hope it will make you happy too. Follow the instructions in the photo captions to make your own grilled butternut squash.
If you try this, please let me know what you think—or share whatever variations you feel are noteworthy. Grilled squash goes especially well with smoked poultry or just about anything else you prepare on the grill.
Before you start on the squash, start your grill and leave it on high so it’s hot when the filets are ready. A vegetable peeler removes skin from a butternut squash; it helps to rest the squash on a firm surface and draw the peeler down toward that surface. After peeling the squash, cut off the stem and the blossom scar.
To cut up a squash for grilling, it helps to have a big honking chef’s knife. Be cautious and always cut toward a cutting board with the hand that steadies the squash safely above the knife’s blade. My first cut goes down the center of the squash, but notice that I start the cut through the seed end before standing the squash up and forcing the knife down through the neck.
I scrape the seeds out of the squash before slicing it into filets. The filets are about a quarter to three-eighths of an inch thick. Notice again that I start each cut at one end of the squash, cutting down and through (I’m not pushing the knife toward my hand in the center photo… just down toward the cutting board). This first cut acts as a guide when I stand the squash on end and work the knife down through the length of the fruit.
Once I’ve cut out all my squash filets, I paint them on one side with a thin coating of olive oil (left). Then I sprinkle on cayenne pepper and black pepper (center). You could add salt at this point if you like. I finish with a light distribution of brown sugar which I press into the oil with my fingers so it will adhere when I put the squash on the grill.
I place the squash filets seasoning-side-down on my grill and immediately paint the unseasoned faces with oil. Then I season them as I did the other sides. I put the cover on the grill and let the squash cook for just three or four minutes. Then I flip the squash and cook it for another three or four minutes. CAUTION! The squash may be soft when you flip it, so work a spatula along the length of each piece before lifting it off the grill.
Grilling caramelizes the sugar, but the charring usually adds complexity to the flavor of the squash; don’t reject it just because it looks singed. If six to eight minutes on the grill doesn’t get your squash filets soft, put them back on the grill or finish them off in your microwave oven. This grilled squash is soft, sweet, and savory with a touch of heat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.