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New Veggies to try: Mary's favorite Winter Squash!

Winter squash stored in Mary's hallway.
Photo: Mary H. Meyer, UMN Extension
As the sun shines and the temps grow warmer, we are just a few weeks away from sowing vegetable crops outdoors—at least the cool season ones!  In the meantime, mid to late April is a great time to start winter squash from seed indoors to give it a head start.

Here are some squash varieties to try—based on my recent survey of winter squash.

Winter Squash Review 2019-2020

My front hall was filled with winter squash from late October 2019 until March 2020.  I just ate the last squash on March 23, 2020. I had about 20 kinds and almost 30 fruits (yes with seeds inside they are indeed fruits). 

Thanks to Jenny and John Thull, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum gardeners who select and grow these for display and sale at the Arboretum.   

Honey Bear squash, 2009 All America Selection Winner
Photo: All America Selections
I love winter squash. It is filling, high in vitamins, fiber and flavor and very satisfying especially on a cold winter day.  I collected the squash in late October from the Horticulture Research Center. 

Before I brought the fruits inside, I used a rough towel to remove any soil from the rind. If any had holes or cracks, or injuries, I sorted these to eat first, before decay could set in. Then I built a pile of the squash on the ceramic tile in my front hall…where it is about 60-65 degrees F. 

And then the fun begins. I ate the first squash on October 26, 2019 and the last one on March 23, 2020. I take a picture of the squash, then note the name in a notebook (and hope I know it, or can read Jenny’s magic marker writing on the squash).

Then I cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, sometimes cut it into sections and place the cut side on a cookie sheet lightly covered with olive oil, then into a 375 degrees F. oven for about an hour. I usually flip the sections after 30 minutes, so both sides can brown on the cooking sheet. 

Then I taste the squash….with nothing on it. Here are my findings from this past year. So many squash! So fun to try new ones. 

2019 Winter Squash Favorites

Marina de Chioggia. Photo:
Marina de Chioggia:  Drier flesh, sweet, nutty, DELICIOUS, wow, the best.  I was lucky and got two of these from the Arboretum, one cooked in November, the second in mid-January. This larger flat dark green squash is one of the best I have ever tasted!

Small butternuts: New to the market are small, personal size butternut squashes. Butterscotch, (wow!) is like eating pumpkin pie...very sweet honey flavor!!! I grew Honeybaby and Honeynut, which are smaller butternuts with excellent flavor in my own community garden plot, very nice, not as sweet as Butterscotch. 

I also grew a newer acorn-type called Honey Bear and it was small.  Acorn types are rarely as sweet or flavorful as butternut or buttercup squash. 
Delicata types: Honey Boat….very sweet and delicious.  Jester, a larger delicata, is good with nice flavor.

Candy Roaster. Photo:
Candy Roaster: This long, giant banana shaped pink squash was a big surprise--WOW--so delicious with good flavor, nice moisture content and good texture and so different from the one I had last year. No wonder this old heirloom has such a following!!!! 

Greek Sweet Red:  It's a butternut-shaped but larger squash with delicious, good flavor. It was a bit stringy but high in sugar--nice!

Speckled Hound:  squat to flat, medium in size, pink and pale blue spots, sometimes warty, delicious; good texture and excellent for baking 

The canned pumpkin squash

Dickinson squash is
used to make canned pumpkin.
I have to mention Dickinson here as this is the first time I had tried it. This is a large beige pumpkin looking squash, and is the canned pumpkin pie (really!). Read

The first one I ate on October 26 and it was okay, with lots of flesh, but lots of water as well. Not so memorable. 

Then I ate the second one on March 17 and this one looked great from the outside, but was almost as light as a feather and had dehydrated to just stingy dry inedible pulp. So, if you grow or find Dickinson, eat it in October and November. 

Squash tasting tips

For squash to be at its best it must be fully ripe and that is hard to tell unless you really know the variety. Immature fruit may look ripe, especially from the outside. Seeds should be fully formed and have something inside (endosperm) and finally, any sign of green inside just under the rind may indicate immaturity. 

A disclaimer: Trying one squash fruit one time is not enough to say you know that variety!!! In our climate, we usually need as many days as possible for winter squash to mature, a long season with many sunny days to allow the fruit to fully ripen. 

I would love to see more winter squash in farmer’s markets or in the grocery store. Do not be intimidated by a large squash….it can make you feel rich! Cut it in thirds, cook one third and store the rest in the refrigerator. 

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor 

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