Storing Winter Squash and Squash/Pumpkin Soup Recipe
As you are planning what to plant in your garden (because it is a wonderful way to expand your food storage for practically free and eat fresh, organic food most of the year for practically free), I am sharing what I’ve grown, stored and used over the winter to give you some ideas and options. So far we’ve talked about peppers, nuts, summer squash, apples, berries, zucchini and tomatoes.
For the last few years I have stored winter squash of different varieties. Folks, I am telling you, it doesn’t get any easier than this. You plant a seed, they grow like mad, you pick them, you put them in a dark, cool closet, and that is it. That’s it! No canning, slicing, dicing, freezing, dehydrating, special equipment, nothing! I don’t even really wash them off until I’m ready to eat them, so they go in dusty. When I need one, I grab one, rinse it and make soup or whatever we are having. This year I stored spaghetti squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash (slightly sweeter than butternut) and acorn squash.
Spaghetti squash gets its name because when you cook it, it makes shreds like spaghetti. The absolute easiest and fastest way to cook it is stab with a fork and microwave for 10-ish minutes. Slice it open with your chef’s knife (being careful because it is really hot and steaming inside). Scoop out the seeds and use a fork to pull out the strands. This orange beauty has more nutrition and fewer calories than pasta. It’s great for everyone, but especially anyone who has to watch their gluten, blood sugar, carbs or calories because it can be substituted for spaghetti noodles in any dish. They will keep for a few months in a cool, dark pantry or basement. Try tossing it with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes. So now you have two pasta substitutes, including the zucchini noodles for sauces and lasagna.
Have you heard the joke, “Where does a gorilla sit at the opera? Anywhere he wants to.” That’s how squash are. They are space hogs, but they don’t have to take over. They can be trellised. I learned about this in Mel Batholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book. You can trellis any vine from cucumbers all the way to large squash. It seems like the squash would be too heavy, but the plant just produces sturdier vines to compensate for the weight. Make them grow up instead of out. It’s also easier to see what you have (no more finding those 10 pound cucumbers hiding in the overgrowth), and you get less spoilage because they are off the ground away from the moisture and bugs.
Harvest and Storage Tips
The easiest way to tell your winter squash are ready for harvest will be a nice, hard rind and glossy skin. This will be in early autumn before the first frost. When removing them from the vine, leave two inches of stem. A stem that is too short is like an open wound, and will cause early decay. Keep the best, unblemished ones for storage. Any that have cuts, soft spots, discoloration or any breakage in the skin will go bad very quickly, so as long as they are otherwise fine, use them soon. If you have too many that need to be used right away and don’t want them to go bad, then make large batches of your soup or sauce and freeze those as meals to rescue you on a cold, dreary night. It takes hardly any extra time to make a larger batch of soup. You could also peel and cube those less-than-perfect specimens and freeze them in portions for making whatever you like to make with them: pumpkin bread (I wonder how butternut squash would substitute in that?), soups, stews, mashed, pie, you name it.
Before putting them in the basement, allow the squash to cure at room temperature for 10-20 days (except acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata). After they’ve cured move them to the coolest spot you have in the house. Ideal temperatures are 45-50 degrees. I would avoid storing any of your fresh foods in the garage or anywhere you store chemicals (like a shed) because they can absorb chemical odors. I’ve kept some of my squash for up to six months, but the warmer the temperature and more humid the air, the shorter your shelf life. Average shelf life it 4-ish months Refrigeration will cause fast deterioration because it is humid storage. Store them separate from your apples, pears, carrots and other vegetables that prefer more humid conditions. Do store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator.
One recipe we love to use winter squash in is a wonderful soup that my husband and I had on our honeymoon in Jamaica. I don’t know much about Jamaican cuisine, so I don’t know if it’s authentic, but it is the best squash/pumpkin soup I’ve ever had. It was so good we went back to that restaurant three nights in a row to eat it again. I recently asked them for the recipe because I wanted to recreate that romantic meal (minus the beach, the waves, the breeze and the moonlight *sigh*), and they gave it to me! You could make it with pumpkin (which is how they made it), the buttercup squash, or any of the winter squash. I serve this with the spinach pear salad and some one-hour bread. It also pairs well with pork or chicken. It’s a very satisfying, nutritious, delicious meal that is easy on the budget. Especially if you grew that squash yourself.
Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Soup
4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
3 cups pumpkin (you can also use butternut or buttercup or most of the winter squash)
1 cup chopped onion
4 clove garlic, minced
½ cup coconut cream or coconut milk
¼ cup butter (if you don’t use butter, you could use coconut oil to add more depth to the coconut flavor and get some extra nutrients)
¼ cup white wine (or additional broth)
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Stab squash/pumpkin with a fork and microwave for 10-15 minutes. Slice in half and scoop out flesh. You can also peel and dice the raw pumpkin/squash, whichever you prefer.
While squash is in the microwave, on low heat sauté onion and garlic in butter until translucent (do not brown). Add pumpkin and sauté for 5 min.
Add white wine and sauté until almost evaporated (for those who have concerns about the wine, you can use additional broth. If you do use the wine, the alcohol will be cooked out, just leaving the flavor). Add stock, coconut milk, thyme, salt & pepper.
On low heat simmer for 30 minutes uncovered (if you didn’t microwave the pumpkin this part is critical so it finishes cooking). Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender. Serve with croutons, if desired. And then email me to tell me it is the best pumpkin soup you’ve ever had. Ever.
*A delicious variation is to add a peeled and diced apple when you add the pumpkin. So delicious in the fall when the weather is crisp.