The pumpkin is a model of ecological efficiency. The meat (or pulp) of the pumpkin can be used to prepare a variety of delicious, healthy foods. The seeds can be roasted and eaten. The shell can be used as a jack-o-lantern, scarecrow’s head, cooking vessel or autumn centerpiece. And when its productive life is over, the pumpkin or winter squash make excellent compost material.
Keep whole winter squash, with the stem attached, in a cool, dry, well-ventilated
place. Temperatures between 45º and 50º F are best. Much warmer or colder temperatures cause squash to spoil. To keep squash for several months, be sure squash is fully mature (the skin should be hard). Don’t store bruised or damaged squash for long periods of time since they will spoil quickly.
If you don’t have room to keep squash over the winter months, plan to freeze some.
Nutrition and Health
Winter squash and pumpkins are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. They are very high in vitamin A (carotene) and potassium, and low in fat and sodium. One-half cup of cooked winter squash or pumpkin only has 40 to 60 calories, about the same calorie count as a slice of whole wheat bread or small apple. Roasted squash and pumpkin seeds are a good source of fiber and are high in iron. Eating vegetables high in carotene may help lower cancer risks. Take advantage of nutritious winter squash in season. Buy extra to store or freeze.
Look for winter squash and pumpkins that have hard, tough skin (rind) with no cracks, cuts, punctures, or soft, sunken or moldy spots. Tender skin is a sign of immaturity and poor quality. Choose squash and pumpkins that are firm and heavy for their size.
Cooking Squash and Pumpkins
You can boil, steam, bake or microwave squash or pumpkin. Cook them with or without the skin, but it’s easier to leave the skin on and remove the pulp after the squash is cooked.
To Steam: Wash squash. Cut off stem. Cut in half, using a heavy duty, sharp knife. Remove the seeds and fibers. Cut squash into smaller pieces. Place in a metal steaming basket or colander. In a large pan, bring at least two inches of water to boil. Place the basket with the vegetable into the pan over the boiling water. Cover tightly. Lower temperature, but make sure the water continues to bubble. Steam for about half an hour until the squash is tender. When the squash is cooked, scoop out the pulp from the skin. (You may also peel squash before cooking, cut into 2–inch cubes, and steam.)
To Microwave: Squash cooks quickly in the microwave. For small squash such as acorn, cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place cut side down on a microwave-safe plate. Pierce skin in a couple of places with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the microwave oven. Microwave at high power 5 to 8 minutes per half. Let stand, covered, for about 8 minutes more. For larger squash and pumpkins, cut into individual portion sizes. Arrange cut side down on a microwave safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Cook 3 to 4 1/2 minutes per piece. After half the cooking time has passed, rotate the dish so that the squash cooks evenly. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
To Bake: Wash whole squash. Cut into halves or serving size pieces. Remove seeds and fibers. Place cut side down in a shallow baking dish. Add a small amount of water to the bottom of the dish (about 1⁄4 inch). Cover with aluminum foil and cook until almost tender, about 35 minutes, at 400 degrees F. Uncover. Lower heat to 350 degrees F. Turn pieces over so the cut side is up. (Be careful to avoid burning yourself.) Season to taste or simply continue baking, uncovered, for another 25 to 30 minutes. Serve cooked squash plain. Or scoop squash out of the skin. Place in a serving dish, mash, and season.
Explore our Recipes from the Harvest Kitchen for more great cooking ideas!