I’m dreaming of luscious soups, savory side-dishes and jack-o-lanterns today. Why? Because my plantings of winter squash are ready for harvest. Here is my method for picking, curing and storing these powerhouses of fiber and beta-carotene:
The time to pick butternut squash, acorn squash and pumpkins is when stems have shriveled, vines are beginning to die back, and shells have hardened. If you can’t scratch a shell easily with your fingernail, it is hard enough. Cut cleanly from the vine with hand-pruners, keeping one to two inches of stem intact. Only on Hubbard-types should the stem be removed.
Next, permit the squash to “cure” — that is, to heal its cuts and scratches — in warm, moist air. Ideal curing conditions are 75-85 degrees F., and 80-percent humidity. These conditions are not easily achieved during a typical Northeastern autumn. Thus, I compromise slightly, by setting my squash varieties in full sun on the wire-mesh patio table for 10 days. The produce is moved temporarily into the mud-room whenever rain or frost threatens.
After curing, move the squash to cool storage. There’s no compromising here: temperatures between 50-55 degrees F., and 50-70 percent humidity are the rule. A room in my creepy Victorian cellar satisfies this storage requirement; if your cellar is too warm, too cold, or too dry, perhaps you have a slightly heated garage or an unheated spare room where the squash can be stored.
Squash should never be stored on a cold, damp basement floor, nor should it be stacked. Stand the harvest on a table in one layer, or arrange it, single-file, on shelves. Stacking leads to injured produce, and this invites rot. And like the proverbial apple, one rotten squash will spoil the whole bunch.
Storage life depends upon the type of squash you have:
Acorn – 2 months, perhaps a little longer
Butternut – 5 months
Pumpkin – 3 months
Hubbard – up to 6 months
Spaghetti – 2-3 months
Yes, I’m dreaming of snowy evenings, roaring fires, and comforting bowls of butternut squash soup. Are you?
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