Have you ever studied the array of beautiful fall squash at the grocery store and wondered which type of squash was which, how you would prepare them, and how they would taste? The varieties seem endless. If you shy away from these fall vegetables (or are they fruit), you are missing a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet. They are easy to prepare and very versatile because they can be prepared in so many ways, from soups, to side dishes, to breads, to desserts.
Winter squash makes a beautiful centerpiece on the table this time of year but their real beauty is revealed in their delicious flavor. Winter squash are some of the most nutritious and surprisingly delicious vegetables that you can put on your table in the fall. Squash is fat free and chock full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and C. They are also a good source of fiber.
Are winter squash a fruit or vegetable? Botanically speaking, they are fruit since they are the seed bearing part of the plant. However, in meals they are usually served as a vegetable side dish. They would be counted as a vegetable when planning a nutritious diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Summer squash are harvested when immature, however winter squash are harvested when the fruit is mature. Mature fruits have a rind that is hard and cannot be punctured with a fingernail. The rind should also be dull, dry in appearance and be free of cracks and soft spots.
Winter squash store easily and have a much longer shelf life than other produce, making them last well into the winter, hence their name. Do not wash winter squash before storing. Do, of course, wash them well before preparation to remove any dirt and harmful bacteria. Most varieties will keep up to three months if stored in a cool, dry place. Spaghetti squash does have shorter storage life, only about 2 months. Hubbard squash can keep well up to 6 months.
Often squash, especially the larger varieties, are sold cut in pieces. Once cut, store in plastic wrap or a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within one week.
How do you know which winter squash is which? While there are hundreds of varieties available, a few of the more popular winter squash include butternut, acorn, spaghetti and Hubbard.
The butternut squash, long, pear-shaped, and tan in color, is one of the most popular. It has a thin rind that is easy to cut through or peel off with a vegetable peeler. Cooked butternut squash, with its fine-grained flesh is perfect for pureeing.
Acorn squash is another popular variety, resembling an acorn in shape. This small squash comes in a variety of skin colors, including dark green, gold, and white. It is good for baking and goes well with sweet, nutty or spice stuffings.
The cooked flesh of spaghetti squash is mild and resembles spaghetti strands. It can be served in many ways similar to spaghetti, with a sauce or pesto making a low-calorie, low-starch pasta substitute.
Hubbard squash grows very large and is often sold in cut pieces. After cooking, it mashes well and can be served simply with butter, salt and pepper or it can be used in breads, muffins, pancakes and soups. The cooked flesh can be frozen for later use.
Descriptions, including color pictures, of a wide variety of winter squash are available on the Internet at various sites. An excellent one is from the University of Illinois Extension atwww.extension.uiuc.edu. Search for "winter squash."
OSU Extension, in partnership with Norwalk Parks and Recreation will be offering "Savor Squash" a cooking demonstration providing recipes, preparation ideas, and taste testing of a variety of types of squash recipes. The program will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. today at the club house at Veterans Memorial Lake Park. The cost is $6 per person. For more information and to register call Norwalk Parks and Recreation at (419) 663-6775.
Deb Angell is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator for Huron County's Ohio State University Extension Office, 180 Milan Avenue, Suite 1, Norwalk, OH 44857. She can be reached by phone at (419) 668-8219 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.