Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Winter Squash 101- Everything you need to know!

This week, we’re honing in on all things winter squash because, let’s face it, fall is here and that means it’s time to embrace winter squash. Before we get into the specifics of each of the winter squash varieties that we grow, we’ll take a step back and give you a little background about the planning and strategy that goes into getting these squash into your kitchen.

Long before the planting season begins, Farmers Richard and Andrea begin the process of selecting which winter squash varieties to grow in the coming year. For the most part, these decisions are based on a few simple factors: appearance & size, taste & sweetness, and how well it stores. The squash you’ve seen this fall in your boxes or at our market stand all possess this trifecta of ideal characteristics—albeit, to varying degrees.  We also try to select squash that will span the season with some being best shortly after harvest and others that get better with time in storage. 

Winter Sweet Squash
 Once planting season arrives, squash transplants are nestled in along row after row of silver—or reflective—mulch. This practice largely serves as a deterrent to common pests like cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Based on the thickness of each particular squash variety’s shell, their vulnerability to these pests and their razor sharp mouthparts varies somewhat. Typically, however, any bacteria that makes its way into one of these hardly noticeable nibbles inflicted by a cucumber beetle produces a spot. This tiny spot will affect the shelf life of the squash.

Knowing this, we take great care to ‘baby’ each and every one of our winter squash as we handle them during harvest & packing. Using large portable tanks, our crew washes each squash in the field during harvest, a process that removes both dirt and bacteria. This allows us to minimize the amount of handling, which in turn limits opportunities for puncture wounds. From the field, our crew moves the day’s harvest to our warm and toasty greenhouse where they undergo a process of curing and then are held in storage.

Orange Kuri
Whether it be in the field or on the packing line, we keep an eye out for those spots I mentioned before. Any afflicted squash are culled immediately. But alas, the Harmony Valley family can only consume so much squash!  While we deliver squash with nearly every box once fall sets in, you don’t necessarily have to eat it right away.  It’s much easier for you to keep your eye on a few squash than it is for us to monitor thousands of squash nestled into bins.  Once you receive your squash, your job is to keep an eye out for any signs of aging, spots forming, etc. Even if a spot appears on the surface, it is still perfectly edible. Simply cut out the spot and eat that squash or cook it and freeze the cooked flesh. Overall, store your squash in a warm, dry place—like your kitchen table for seasonal décor or your countertop. Do not store squash in the refrigerator or in an uninsulated garage.  They could get chill injury from being in a cold environment less than 45 degrees. It also helps to be aware that the sweeter the squash and the more thin the rind, the poorer its storage ability.  These varieties should be eaten first.

And now, let’s take a look at Harmony Valley’s 2015 winter squash varieties!

 Orange Kabocha 
Orange Kabocha and Orange Kuri: These squash are similar in appearance and use.  Kabocha is rather squat in shape and features a bright orange, dull and slightly bumpy skin. Orange kuri has a similar appearance except it is pointier on top.  Both have a sweet, rich, nutty flavor profile and a chestnut-like texture that is quite similar to a sweet potato, with pumpkin influences. Highly versatile, these can be steamed or baked. If opting for the latter, cut your squash in half and remove the seeds first.  Bake in the oven in a pan with a small amount of water, cut side down.  Thanks to their dense flesh, this squash is ideal for curries, but may just as easily be pureed for your next batch of squash soup.  It’s also a good selection to use in baked goods.

Butternut Squash
Butternut: This winter squash variety has a long and somewhat slender neck and a more bulbous, rounded bottom. We intentionally grow smaller varieties so they can be used in entirety once cut.  Butternut features a mild flavor and a silky texture. Its smooth skin makes it easy to peel using either a vegetable peeler or paring knife. The seeds can either be discarded or roasted and eaten as a fall snack. Butternut can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, from soups and pastas to breads and mashes. Stored properly, butternut will keep for several months.
Honeynut Butternut

Honeynut Butternut: The product of crossing a butternut and a buttercup, honeynut butternut squash are adorable. They more closely resemble their butternut parent, though they’re much smaller in size and feature a rust-colored skin. Honeynut butternut’s flesh is very sweet, with a smooth, non-stringy texture. Their high sugar content makes them ideal for sweeter preparations, though they can also be substituted for regular butternut in any recipe. These little squash are challenging to grow and are not the best keepers.  We delivered them in some boxes over the past two weeks.  If you have one on your counter, we’d recommend you use it soon.
Sugar Dumpling Squash

Sugar Dumpling: Whitish-yellow and green in color, sugar dumplings are small and compact, with ridges that run vertically. Their flesh is sweet and flavorful. Sugar dumplings can be used in sweet or savory preparations and are ideally suited to recipes that call for sweet potatoes or pumpkins. In general, you can halve, quarter or even whole-roast and stuff these little squash. Like honeynut butternut, sugar dumplings aren’t the best keepers. We delivered these several weeks ago.  If you still have some, keep your eye on them and use them within the next few weeks.

Festival Squash

Festival: Festival squash—often called carnival squash—are the product of an acorn-sweet dumpling cross. Yellow or cream in color with green and orange striping, festival squash feature a mild, nutty flesh and a firm texture. This variety is an excellent choice for baking or stuffing. Typically, preparation doesn’t require peeling, but do note that festival’s skin is not typically eaten. This squash will keep for up to one month.

Delicata Squash Tacos, find the recipe here:
Delicata Squash and Black Bean Tacos
 With Salsa Verde and Lime Sour Cream

Delicata: Delicata squash are oblong in shape, with yellowish skin and green striping that runs top to bottom. Their flesh is sweet and creamy—similar to a sweet potato but on the earthier side. Delicata’s thin skin is edible, so there is no need to spend time and energy on peeling. Halve this squash before roasting—or slice it into rings for even faster cooking, taking care to remove the seeds. Partly due to their thin skin, delicata are very poor keepers. These were among the first squash we sent your way.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti: Spaghetti squash are oval-shaped and light yellow to gold in color. After cooking, one scrape of its mild flesh will tell you how this squash got its name. Spaghetti squash’s long, noodle-like strands are similar to angel hair pasta—they’re tender and somewhat chewy, but still on the delicate side. In terms of preparation, there’s no need to peel this squash—simply roast and scrape. Due to its very mellow flavor, spaghetti squash are best incorporated into bold, savory dishes where it won’t have to compete for attention—it’ll simply blend in. This squash can also step in as a healthy alternative to pasta. Spaghetti squash will store for about one month.

Cha-Cha Squash

We have a few other varieties you might see in some of the latter boxes.  We have been trialing a few new varieties including a dark green kabocha called Cha-Cha.  The past two years we’ve also grown a squash called Winter Sweet.  This is a unique one in that it is actually better after it has been in storage for several months.  We selected this one specifically because it is one we can store and then deliver in January. 

1 comment:

NotThatKindOfFarmer said...

Very good article on squash.I learned a lot.
Thanks for sharing this information with us.