& Storing Squash
CR Lawn, 2009
When do you harvest squash? How do you cure it? How
do you store it? Winter squash is a hearty satisfying treat on a
cold winter day. Here are some tips for how to harvest, cure and
store these fruits so they don't end up resembling the paste tense
of their generic name.
The word “squash,” while conjuring distinct
images, is not very descriptive. We are dealing with three separate
species here (four if you are adventurous and grow Cushaw, a Cucurbita
argyrosperma), as well as the so-called pumpkins. “Pumpkin”
has no botanical basis, the small ones being C. pepo and the giant
ones C. maxima.
C. pepo includes acorn and delicata squashes, zucchinis
and summer squashes as well as pie pumpkins. They have 5-sided ribbed
stems and the fruits are usually ribbed. While their stems give
no indication of ripeness, the fruits characteristically turn color
when they ripen. Acorns will darken and pie pumpkins turn to bright
orange. Delicatas lose some of their green coloration and develop
a yellow or orange undertone.
C. moschata are smooth and tan and include butternut
squashes and cheese pumpkins. Butternuts typically have difficulty
fully ripening in our climate. They are fully tan when ripe. If
they retain even a hint of green, they aren't mature and their flavor
C. maxima includes large squashes such as the buttercups,
Japanese Kabochas and hubbards as well as the large Jack O'Lantern
pumpkins. These have fat round stems that turn corky and woody as
the squashes ripen. Maximas are the lone species that give away
their ripeness by the condition of their stem. When the stem is
fully wizened, they are dead ripe.
Good storage starts with good harvesting. Leave all
squash on the vine until threatened by a hard frost. Even if they
look ripe, leave any that you don't want to eat now. They engage
in an after-ripening process that makes them sweeter and waiting
is a good policy. Only if temperatures are heading for the 20s should
they be severed. Then bring them in or cover them under a heavy
tarp. I put spoiled hay over my tarp for added protection. As soon
as the threat is gone and the sun comes out, remove the tarp. Nearly
ripe squash are worth protecting, but don't bother to harvest squash
that are way under-ripe. The only hope for these dilatory fruits
is to leave them and hope they escape frost and buy some more time
to mature in the field. If harvested immature they will not keep.
It is critical to keep the stems on the fruits. I
therefore recommend using pruning snips, rather than tugging or
twisting them off the vine. Any fruits that lose their stems must
be eaten very soon for they will not keep long.
All squash should be sun-cured. Leave them in the
field for 10-14 sunny days, covering if rain or frost threatens,
then uncovering promptly when the threat abates. They will continue
to after-ripen, developing their full sugars and delectable flavor.
When nights become consistently cold, bring them indoors for keeps.
Once they are finally brought in, keep them above
50° F. Any place 50-70° with 60-70% relative humidity is ideal.
But the root cellar is a no-no; it is too cold and damp and they
will rapidly deteriorate.
Squash in storage are antisocial. Place them where
they are not touching one another and where the air circulation
is good. If you must heap them in a pile, mold can spread rapidly,
so check frequently for mold spots and cull all those with such
spots, and any others with soft spots or bruises.
Squashes vary widely in their storability. Some,
such as the French Galeuse D'Eysines and the Winter Luxury pumpkin
(notwithstanding its name) will be lucky to make it intact until
Thanksgiving. Others, such as Australian heirlooms Queensland Blue
and Triamble, cheese pumpkins and Long Pie, and some of the Japanese
Kabochas will keep seemingly forever. The latter, often indifferent
eating in fall, don't develop full flavors until late winter, when
they are said by their devotees to be superb.
In general the acorn squashes are the first to get
tough and stringy, followed by delicatas, buttercups and then later
by pie pumpkins, butternuts and cheeses. Enjoy!