Winter squash has been a garden mainstay for us for many years. Each year we store three or more varieties. Because of this the ins and outs of storing it have become clear.
|Squash cleaned and ready to be put in storage|
First, in order to store a squash it must have developed a hard shell, or, in other words, to have become entirely ripe. Some varieties will develop a corky-looking stem. The color of the squash should be fully developed- Butternut, for instance looks yellowy or greenish as it grows, and becomes a dull buff color when mature. Blue Hubbard develops a bluish color. But the ultimate test is, before picking, to tap it with a fingernail. If your nail leaves an indent the squash is not ready to harvest.
We’ve heard advice saying when harvesting a squash to keep at least two inches of stem attached. The method of harvesting is to cut through the stem using a hand pruners. We try to do this but sometimes the stem breaks off. We haven’t noticed that this presents a problem in storage.
Another piece of advice we’ve seen is this: after harvesting, always handle a squash as carefully as if it were an egg. We’re not sure about this either. It seems like good advice and we try to follow it. But squashes are made of odd shapes and sometimes one takes a tumble.
We clean them, washing off any dirt using cold water, and, if needed, a veggie brush. If there are spots, lesions, or bite marks from some animal with Dracula-like teeth (some squashes had these this year), they are not likely to keep. Cook them right away and eat or freeze. The side of the squash that laid on the ground is paler than the rest, and that is not a problem.
|Squash in the closet|
Advice also says to cure them by keeping them dry and at room temperature for about ten days. Not sure of the importance of this, except to make really sure that they are completely dry for storage. We dry them off after washing and lay them out on newspapers for a few days, then assign the most energetic one of the two of us to lug them upstairs to the closet.
What we do know for sure is that winter squash need a dry environment for successful keeping. We place them on newspapers on the floor of an unheated closet. Even in a dry, cool place they must be checked at least weekly for newly developed spots or other signs of deterioration. If anything like this shows up, the squash is still good- cook it right away and eat or freeze.
The fridge is no place to keep squash, even for a short time. There is too much humidity and they will spoil quickly. Advice has told us to put them in the basement elevated above the floor. The one and only time we tried this they all failed at the same time- right at the end of December, and then we had to cook all of them. The dry, unheated closet on the other hand, has allowed us to store squash way into March. A great food and so easy to store! (For more info on winter squash, see our blog post of Sept. 6, 2010). -jmm