Pacific Northwest produce lovers have a love-hate relationship with our squash. Towards the end of the summer, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to consume all the zucchini and yellow summer squash coming out of our gardens without wasting any. It’s the season of trying to dump as much summer squash as possible into your neighbors hands while trying to avoid taking theirs, like a big game of hot potato (or hot squash, as the case may be).
Fortunately, the middle of September is when we start to see a transition from summer squash, like zucchini, patty, and yellow squash (generally of the species Cucurbita pepo), to more winter squash varieties like butternut and acorn (in the US, mostly C. moschata, with some C. pepo mixed in for good measure). Winter squash differ from summer squash in that they generally mature to the point where they have a hard and inedible outer rind before they are picked and eaten. This helps these hardy plants survive the colder weather of Cascadian autumn and winter. Their different physiology also gives them a different taste and different cooking applications. While zucchini is best sliced and sautéed (at least in my opinion), nothing beats a good mashed butternut squash with honey and butter.
Thanks to their hard outer rinds, winter squash varieties have extremely long shelf lives. If you buy a prime acorn squash in good condition, it can keep for up to two months if it is stored in a cool (around 50 degrees F), dry place away from direct sunlight. Just make sure not to store them in a refrigerator, as this actually makes the squash go bad more quickly. This comes in very handy for busy Seattleites who don’t want to waste their produce, and makes winter squash a great standby food that you can save for when you really need it.
Keep an eye out for this week’s recipe, which includes butternut squash (but I won’t give it away yet!)