Although named "winter" squash, autumn is the peak season for a variety of squashes that fall into this category.
Pumpkin may be the first winter squash that comes to mind, but there are others that are popular at the dinner table.
Winter squashes are those that can be stored for long periods, under appropriate storage conditions, and have hard, inedible skins. They should be kept away from light, and in an area that is moderately cooler than room temperature. Good ventilation is also necessary.
The more popular squashes currently available at the market are acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and of course, pumpkin.
Acorn squash are the smallest, and range in colour from dark green to bright orange as they mature and become sweeter.
They are aptly named for their resemblance to oversized acorns. Their deep ridges make them difficult to peel with a standard vegetable peeler, so they are easier prepared in halves or rings, with the skin attached and later discarded.
The flesh is yellowish orange in colour, and is fine textured when cooked.
Butternut squash is most recognizable by its shape. It resembles a large pear with a long neck and smooth skin. When ripe, they are tan in colour.
Greenish tinges are the warning signs that full maturity has not been reached.
Since there are seeds only in the bottom half, this squash offers the most flesh per size of any variety. The rich, sweet orange flesh makes it a favourite squash for many people.
Cooked spaghetti squash is easily the most recognizable, due to its pasta-like strands of translucent yellow flesh. The unique texture and enjoyable eating appeal more than makes up for its rather bland flavour. It is a favourite among children and low-carbohydrate dieters when topped with tomato sauce as a pasta replacement. In the market, it is recognized by its smooth yellow skin and long, oval shape.
Pumpkins are most popularly used as jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night, and in varying pie and cake recipes.
They are the largest of all the winter squashes, have the most prominent flavour, and also have the thickest flesh.
The seeds of all of these winter squashes can be roasted and eaten as a snack, however pumpkin seeds are the most popular. Due to their high fat content, however, they should always be consumed in moderation. A serving size of nuts or seeds is about the size of a golf ball.
All of these winter squashes can be prepared in an abundance of recipes, ranging from soups, salads, desserts, stir-fries, pastas, and vegetable dishes.
They each have nutritional benefits of their own, but the orange-fleshed varieties also have high levels of beta-carotene (an important antioxidant).
Dear Chef Dez,
We always buy cans of pureed pumpkin this time of year for different dessert recipes. Since pumpkins are available fresh, wouldn't it be more economical to make it myself? How do I go about doing this?
John G. Chilliwack
It can be done quite easily. Cut a fresh pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and the stringy filaments. Place the cut sides down on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until the flesh is very tender - approximately one hour. Spoon the cooked flesh off the skin and into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer it to a large wire mesh strainer set over a bowl, cover and let drain in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the liquid, and use the drained puree in any fashion that you would with canned.
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to email@example.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4