Winter squash is a vegetable belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, resembling both cucumbers and melons in appearance and properties. It is usually harvested during the summer months and is eaten in the mature form, unlike the summer variety. The squash is characterized by their hard exterior shells and hollow cavities which contain the seeds. The flesh of the squash is sweet in taste and finely grained. It is not easily perishable and can be preserved for long periods, often up to a year.
The vegetable is considered to be extremely nutritious and contains dietary fiber along with substantial quantities of magnesium and potassium. It is also rich in Vitamin C and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of pectin. Steaming the winter squash is considered to be the most effective method for retaining its nutritional value.
Some cultivars of the winter squash are sold as pumpkins in Australia.The top producers of the winter squashes in the world include China, Russia, Egypt, Italy, Romania and Argentina.
Winter Squash: History
The wild squash growing in parts of Mexico and Guatemala is thought to be the precursor of modern day winter squashes. They were first cultivated for obtaining the seeds and the flesh of the vegetable was bitter and insufficient. The squash was developed slowly over a number of years and Columbus introduced it to Europe after discovering the New World. The popularity of the squashes as a nutritious vegetable grew rapidly thereafter and it is now consumed throughout the world.
Winter Squash Types
Butternut Squash- This is a pear-shaped squash that is eaten for its sweet flesh which is orange in color.
Turban Squash- This type of squash can be speckled or striped in appearance and tastes like hazelnuts.
Hubbard Squash- A large squash that can be green, grey-blue or orange in color. It is not as sweet as the other varieties of winter squashes.
Kabocha Squash- This is a popular fruit in USA owing to its sweet-tasting flesh.
- Acorn Squash- This has a mottled appearance of green and orange and is characterized by a nutty taste that is slightly peppery.
Popular Winter Squash Recipes
Golden Squash Soup is prepared by cooking butternut squash in vegetable or chicken broth, which is blended with coconut milk before serving.
Acorn Squash Rings is a baked dessert consisting of acorn squash roundels, glazed with maple syrup and brown sugar.
- Squash Hawaiian is made by mashing Hubbard squashes along with pineapple and brown sugar.
Tips for Buying and Storing Winter Squashes
The squashes which are heavy and sport a dull-looking rind are considered to be ideal for long storage. Soft and glossy rinds indicate the presence of moisture and buying them is not recommended, as they tend to spoil quickly.
Cutting them into individual pieces and keeping them refrigerated while encased in plastic wraps, makes them last longer.
Direct exposure to sunlight and extremes of temperature hastens decay of the winter squashes.
Thomas Jefferson grew winter squash in White House gardens during his tenure as the President of the United States