Winter Squash Buying Guide

Winter squash are one of my favorite items to stock up on at the final farmers market of the year. They’ll keep for months when stored in a cool, dark, dry place such as a root cellar or basement, meaning that you can enjoy them all winter.

Like the heirloom tomatoes of summer, winter squash vary widely in size, color, and shape. Here’s a guide to what’s what at the farmers market.

Acorn Squash: 2-3 lbs. Subtly sweet. Good for roasting, baking, steaming, mashing, and sauteing. Smaller size makes it perfect for stuffing.

Ambercup Squash: 2-3 lbs. Dry with a sweet-potato flavor. Good for roasting and in soups and stews. Very long storage life (up to five months).

Blue Hokkaido: 2-5 lbs. Subtly sweet with a deep nutty flavor. Good for roasting, baking, and mashing. Also good in soups and stews.

Buttercup Squash: 3-5 lbs. Exceptionally sweet and rich with a sweet-potato flavor. Good for baking, mashing, steaming, and stuffing.

Butternut Squash: 4-5 lbs. Very sweet. Good for roasting, baking, steaming, mashing, sauteing, and pureeing. Great in soups and stews. Stores well.

Carnival Squash: Similar to acorn squash in size, appearance, and flavor.

Delicata Squash: 1-2 lbs. Sweet with a corn-like flavor. The peel is very thin and edible. Thin skin means that this squash does not keep in storage for as long as other varieties. Smaller size makes it a good candidate for stuffing.

Hubbard Squash:  15-40 lbs. One of the largest winter squashes at market besides pumpkins. Look for smaller “baby” varieties that are 4-7 lbs. Very sweet with a pumpkin-like flavor. Extra-thick skins mean that they keep extra-long in storage (up to five months). Best roasted or mashed.

Kabocha Squash: 3-5 lbs. Very sweet and tender, with a nutty flavor. Good for roasting, baking, and steaming. Great in soups and stews.

Red Kuri: 3-4 lbs. Delicate and mellow chestnut-like flavor. Good for roasting, baking, mashing, and steaming.

Spaghetti Squash: 3-4 lbs. When cooked, the flesh separates into spaghetti-like strands. Mild, nutty flavor. Use cooked squash as you would spaghetti pasta.

Sweet Dumpling Squash: 7 oz. Very small in size. Really cute stuffed. Long storage life (up to four months).

Turban Squash: 3-5 lbs. Hazelnut-like flavor. Great hollowed and filled with soup. Also good for baking, mashing, steaming, and as an ornamental.

Image courtesy of Tapir Girl via a Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

I'm an ecologist turned journalist turned farmer-in-training. I'm currently working on an organic farm and creamery in Illinois. Follow me on twitter (http://twitter.com/rachelshulman), friend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=3105709), or follow me on StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/RachelShulman/).