Curing Your Squash

Harvest is just the beginning so far as your squash are concerned.  If you take one in the house and cook it you will probably be very disappointed.  When the plant quits delivering nutrients to the squash it takes on a life of its own and starts preparing itself for the next step, replanting the next generation of squash.

What that means is that the seeds continue to ripen for some time, absorbing nutrients from the “meat” of the squash, and at the same time the flesh starts converting stored carbohydrates into sugars to make the nutrients more accessible.  Some of the water is also absorbed, making the flesh firmer and drier.

tan colored Acorn type squash

Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato, C. pepo

 

From our point of view, as time goes on the flesh gets drier, firmer and sweeter.  This process occurs at different rates in different varieties of squash.  The C.pepo squash, such as acorns and delicatas cure quickly.  Give them a couple of weeks after harvest and they’ll be great.  You can recognize them by the small stems usually with flattish sides and often sharp corners.

On the other hand, C. maxima varieties such as Hubbards, sweetmeats and other larger squash can take months to really cure and reach their best eating.  C. maxima squash have big round “corky” stems and true to their name are often large squash.

 

I understand that traditionally people would wait until Thanksgiving to open their first big squash.  It can be awfully hard to wait that long if don’t have a lot of small squash to get you through, but do try to put it off as long as possible and you’ll be rewarded with better tasting squash.  A well-grown and well-cured squash is hard to beat for delicious food, it’s always a sad day when the last delicata is gone but at least I’ve still got the big guys for the rest of the winter.

Oregon Sweetmeat Squash

Oregon Sweetmeat – C. maxima

 

Winter Squash Harvest

piles of orange squash

Sunshine Squash 2013 Harvest

I had several hits yesterday from people searching for info on when to harvest winter squash here in the Northwest.  The general rule is to let them grow as long as possible so long as the vines are still alive.  Some years we don’t get any real rain until late in October and you can leave them in the field to cure until the vines are dead.  On the other hand, here in the Northwest it’s about that time when the winter storms sometimes start coming in off the Pacific, so what to do?

My take on this is that if there’s just going to be a shower, or a day of rain, leave them if the vines still have some green in them.  If you’re looking at a real winter rain storm, like the one we’ve got coming in with several days of rain and more in the forecast, go ahead and get them in out of the wet if the vines are dying back.  Squash have a hard shell and will stand up to quite a bit of wet weather without rotting, but the spot where they lay on the ground is the most susceptible to rot.  If that stays wet after the squash is ripe they can get mold going there and spoil, so it’s a good idea to not let them lay on wet ground for long periods.

If your squash are still in the field and you don’t have too many, it might be a good idea when the weather dries up next week to harvest them if the vines are dying down, or if the vines are still green just rotate the squash so that the spot that’s been in contact with the ground is is off the ground so it can harden up with exposure to air and sun.  Sometimes I’ll take a handful of straw and put under there so they’re not lying directly on the ground.

Most years the powdery mildew solves this for us by killing off the vines as soon as it gets cool and wet.  All of my large squash were pretty well dead a couple of days ago when I harvested them, but my Delicata vines are still going strong so I left all of them in the field to keep growing for a while and did the same with my Sweet Dumpling that still have a way to go to mature.  If they’re actively growing I’ve never had a problem with them rotting, it just seems to happen to squash where the vine has died.

How to store them?  I guess opinions differ, or abilities anyway.  I know I’ve heard Carol Deppe say that she stores her squash in the house and that the warm dry air is best for them.  That may well be but I’ve never been able to devote a room to squash storage so I store mine in my shop.  It’s an unheated pole barn, but the good news is that in our climate it’s pretty much exactly the same as a refrigerator with temps in the high 30’s and 100 percent humidity all winter.  Delicata are considered to be short storage squash but last year I ate mine until early February, and my bit winter squash stored until Spring when I ate the last of them, so it seems to work pretty darned well.  I guess if you store them inside some of them will store for more than a year, but I’ve never felt the need for that.  By Spring I’m ready to eat other things.

Wheelbarrow full of orange squash

Sunshine Squash Harvest, Guatemalan Blue squash

 

Here’s a picture of my Sunshine squash with some Blue Guatemalan on top of them (and one Sweet Potato squash).  Aren’t they pretty?

 

Next post, when to eat  your squash.  Sneak peek, NOT NOW!