What Makes a Delicious Winter Squash

November 16, 2012

No Thanksgiving is complete without winter squash. One of the foods truly native to America, the squash vine’s roots run deep in Mexico, where it has traditionally been grown alongside corn and beans, making up a trio known as the Three Sisters. Heirloom squash varieties have been cultivated all over the world, from Japan to Italy to Australia.

A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the squash is related to melons, cucumbers, and gourds. Harvested in the fall, winter squash, which include pumpkin varieties, are distinguished from zucchini and other summer squash by their dry, hard skin and long shelf life that extends through the winter. They must be cured for 10 or more days after harvest, at which point their skins harden and their starches convert to sugars. When properly stored in a cool and dry place, some squash varieties will keep for up to six months.

With the their diverse shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, heirloom winter squashes are grown for their remarkable appearances as well as their distinct flavors. For the last seven years, Marty Jacobson and Janet Brown of Allstar Organics have built a reputation as the “squash people” at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The farm currently grows upwards of 30 varieties of squash, including a number of the rarities available through Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

“We try to cultivate high sugar content and good texture,” says Marty. Planted in the spring, winter squash typically take three to four months to mature, during which they require much tender love and care. “They’re sensitive things,” he explains. “If you get an early season freeze, you could kill or set them back. We use a lot of compost, feed them an organic feed, mulch them, and grow a cover crop.”

Marty says that he doesn’t have a favorite variety, but for eating, he often chooses the petite Carnival or the classic Butternut, of which he grows four varieties, including Long of Naples, a green Italian heirloom. As far as looks go, he’s especially fond of the Triamble, with its smooth blue-green flesh and distinctive shamrock shape. “But virtually all the squash we grow are cookable and really good,” he’s quick to note.

Allstar Organics can be found at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday. 

See our Guide to Winter Squash »


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