Winter squashes are planted at the same time as summer squash, but require a longer growing season. Their shells become hard as they mature, thus protecting the meaty flesh during long periods of storage when their starches turn into sugars, making them sweeter.
The dividing line between winter and summer varieties actually comes in their usage and does not necessarily correspond to divisions between the four principal botanical species. Nor is it a firm line, as there are some cultivars which can be harvested early as summer squashes, while others can be kept over the winter.
The following are the five main species of Cucurbita. These are generally classified as winter squash but can also cross that proverbial line:
C. maxima includes the larger types of squash/pumpkin – acorn squash,
buttercup and butternut varieties,
C. mixta is a mixture of varieties which includes the cushaw
These are very similar to the kind grown by the ancient Pueblo Indians.
C. moschata grows only in warm regions, and includes the butternut and crookneck squashes.
C. pepo, of which many cultivars, is treated as such summer squashes as courgettes or zucchini.
They also include the ornamental squashes
and some smaller winter varieties.
C. ficifoliais the fig-leaf pumpkin
In selecting a winter squash, if you can press a fingernail into its skin, it is still immature. The stem should be hard, too, and not spongy or skimpy.
Cutting into a winter squash is no easy feat. It can be cut with a knife, but with great difficulty. It can also be pounded with a mallet to crack it open.
The most practical method is to take it outside and slam in down on a sidewalk to crack it open, and then carry it back inside and break it apart. It can also be slammed on the kitchen floor, but that usually creates too much of a mess.
Some winter varieties include the following:
Acorn, pepper squash (see photo above) is the most widely available of the small winter squashes and one of the most attractive. The flavour is a little bland, but rewarding. Acorn is, as its name suggests, shaped like an acorn with deeply furrowed skin tapering at one end. Its colours range from a dark green, tan, orange, or white, which is considered the tastiest. The yellow-orange flesh bakes beautifully, becoming rich, moist, and tender. Ebony Acorn (Table Queen) has dark green skin and pale yellow, but sweet flesh.
as its name suggests, can grow to 700 pounds or more.
is long, broad, and curved, with pale pink skin. It reaches lengths of about twenty inches. The original variety, that began in the late 1800s, was a bluish-grey with light orange striping; but in storage, the colour changed to a creamy pink. After the turn of the century, a seed company selected three separate colours out of the original introduction: a solid bluish-grey, a solid yellow, and an orange-pink with flesh-coloured stripes. The last is the only one in commercial production now. Banana squash are usually cut into chunks and sold in supermarkets. The blue banana squash has a drier, but richer, flavour; but the pink is preferred for its own characteristics.
is a massive pumpkin with rough red-orange skin and bright flesh. Grown for exhibitions, it is also excellent for pies – lots of them.
Calabaza, Caribbean/Jamaican pumpkin, West Indian pumpkin, Cuban squash (C. moschata)
are the typical names for the warm-zone pumpkins that tend to hover around ten pounds and can be any size or shape or colour. The texture is sweet and moist and the flesh is a bright orange. They are usually sold already cut into pieces. “Calabaza” is the Spanish name for these fruits.
looks like its name suggests. It is flatter, but similar in shape to other rounded or ribbed squash; but the skin is quite different. The mottled, ivy-green colour is found on the top and bottom, but in between is a bright orange with yellow speckles. The deep yellow, loosely knit flesh is sweeter and more flavourful than the Acorn, having also hints of corn and vanilla. The texture is coarse, but not stringy.
is a flattened variety whose flesh turns a stunning persimmon orange when cooked. Crown Prince is smaller variety, with tender orange flesh.
Cushaw (C. argyrospyrma, formerly mixta) (see photo above) has been a favourite of home gardeners for more than two centuries. It has yellow, white, and green striping and cuts almost as easily as a summer squash. It is wasteful, however, as most of the meat is in the neck, while the belly contains mostly pith.
Giant pumpkin, winter squash, ash gourd, preserving melon, wax gourd (Cucurbita maxima – Family Cucurbitaceae) (see photos above). The giant pumpkins are indigenous to Central and South America where they are thought to have existed for over 10,000 years. Today, they now grow vigorously in the tropics, and are widely cultivated around the world. In many countries, the pumpkin is among the most important vegetable species cultivated.
In Italy, Africa, and especially Asia, the leaves of the plant are also valued as a cooked vegetable. The name “giant” aptly describes its size, as they average more than fifty pounds, with super ones coming close to 1,000 pounds. The word “pumpkin” appeared in the 17th century shortly before Perrault wrote his tale of Cinderella, and seems to have derived from “pepon”, the Greek word for melon, which means ‘cooked by the sun’. The French had a similar term, “potiron”, which means ‘large mushroom’, and came from the Arabic for morel mushrooms.
The Cucurbita maxima group has large, variable fruits which includes most pumpkins and winter squash, as well as several ornamentals like the banana, buttercup, hubbard, and turban types. The individual fruits of these frost-sensitive, creeping plants are mostly spherical to cylindrical in shape. Sweeter varieties include the sweet, sugar, cheese, or pie pumpkins, used mainly for desserts.
Hubbard (see photo above) is a term that embraces a group of medium to monster squash/pumpkins. Extremely varied in appearance, their colours can range from bluish, to gray, to orange, or dark to light green. They may be mottled, smooth or warty, and weigh from five to fifty pounds or more. Most are teardrop shaped. The original green or true hubbards came to Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1798 from South America or the West Indies.
It was introduced to the seed trade by J.J.H. Gregory who had named it after Elizabeth Hubbard, who had brought it to his attention. Although there are many strains and crosses, the original is still available. Golden Hubbard is usually a bright orange to yellow in colour and small compared to the green or blue versions. Baby Blue Hubbard is a smaller scale found in the petite or small hubbard category. It is a cross between a Buttercup and a Blue Hubbard, and is one of the few baby cultivars that retain the thick, dry flesh of larger storage pumpkins. It typically ranges between three and five pounds and can be used like any other squash.
Jarrahdale, Australian pumpkin
is an old variety with a shiny thin skin that is a greenish-bluish-gray in colour, enclosing bright yellowish-orange, rock solid flesh. The cavity is small and, with the thin skin, it is an economical buy.
Kabocha types (C. maxima andC. moschata)
are not only numerous but confusing. Kabocha is a generic term for winter squash developed in Japan. It also includes the Kuri. In North America, the term is a generic one used for any cultivar much like how the word “apple” is used. There are two primary types. One is the drum-shaped green Hokkaido, which are usually fairly rough-skinned and mottled or striped dark-green to slate. The other is globular or pointy, a smoother orange Hokkaido which is derived from the American Hubbard. Then there are all those others in between which look like either or both with some even having the Buttercup “beanies”. What they do have in common is their deep, honey sweet flesh that cooks to a custardy consistency. North American varieties average two to three pounds.
Kuri (red), Uchiki kuri, Orange Hokkaido
is the only orange kabocha-type squash allowed to keep its own name on the American market. It is teardrop- or pear-shaped, with a smooth golden skin, which ripens to a beautiful orangey-yellow flesh. They average five to ten pounds, and have been developed from the American Hubbard squashes, resulting in a similarity to the Golden Hubbards.
like the Jarrahdale, was developed in Australia. It can look like the Jarrahdale, but has a more boxy shape. It is fluted, part drum, and part turban, weighing between five and ten pounds. It can virtually be two pumpkins depending: baked, the flesh turns a uniform orange-gold; and, when cut, it has the richness of an avocado and the density of a cooked quince. It is not starchy, but thick and moist. Its flavour is not like any other squash, but more like a green vegetable with an aftertaste of lemon rind.
Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Red Etampes, Cinderella
was introduced in 1883 to American gardeners, but was cultivated in France much earlier, becoming extremely popular in Paris. Weighing fifteen to thirty pounds and having a stunning deep-flame skin, this pumpkin is shaped like the quintessential French pottery tureen. For all its beauty, the flavour is a huge disappointment. No matter how it is cooked, the deep yellow-orange flesh does not yield any flavour of its own, but blends well into other dishes.
has rounded orange fruits growing to between seven and eight inches in diameter. The yellow-orange flesh is tender and most suitable for pies.
Turk’s Turban, Turk’s Cap
is an old variety that was introduced as the American Turban in 1869, but had been sold in the US long before then. Its name aptly describes its shape. It is best known as a decorative squash, but it is also edible. Its sturdy turtle-like shell is a popular item to shellac, but the meat makes a delicious addition to soups. This beautiful orange squash with white and green markings has a large round turban base that is topped with what looks like another squash growing out of the middle. Its thick sweet orange to yellow flesh is creamy, moist, and reminiscent of hazelnuts.
is a representative of the white pumpkin variety whose skin colour varies from blue-gray to cream, with a meaty flesh that is a soft yellow. These colours intensify during cooking, and the pulp becomes fruity and custardy.
is a small, round fruit with extraordinary dark green, warty skin and orange-yellow flesh.
Whangaparaoa Crown Pumpkin
is a grey-skinned variety with a pronounced crown and orange flesh.