September 15, 2017
Fall is officially here – and while we'll certainly miss the colors and flavors of summer (bye bye perfect peaches and dreamy tomatoes), we are more than ready to break out our boots and sweaters.
Our favorite way to ring in the cooler months? Hearty, healthy, satisfying winter squash, of course! These gorgeous, diverse vegetables are an autumn must for centerpieces and menus alike. Native to the Americas, they have played an essential part in human culture here for thousands of years. They’re even a part of the Native American trifecta of staple crops: The Three Sisters, beans, corn, and squash. Not only are winter squashes some of the most historically fascinating vegetables, they also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse – rich in vitamins and minerals, and high in fiber.
The wild array of different squashes at your fingertips these days can be difficult to navigate, but each does have its niche! Check out our guide to these hard-skinned beauties to find out how to match your needs to the perfect pumpkin (sorted by biological family for all your Linnaean sorting needs).
Biological family: CUCURBITA MAXIMA
Best for: Baking, Soups, Purees
This large, tear-drop-shaped squash is perfect for cold autumn staples like soup, baked goods, and pies. Blue Hubbard boasts a gorgeous blue-gray skin while Golden Hubbards are a vivid orange. It has dense, very smooth, golden-colored flesh and a sweet, rich flavor. Its thick skin means they are the perfect squash for a centerpiece that will last through Christmas and still make an irresistible pie! Best when incorporated into baked goods or soups – especially paired with brown sugar or maple syrup – but it can also be used as a standalone side roasted or baked. Skip the skin on this guy.
Best for: Roasting, Stuffing
Often mistaken for kabocha squash, the buttercup is slightly smaller, more squared, and has a distinctive blossoming circle of light gray green skin on one end. Buttercup is super sweet, and can replace sweet potatoes in many recipes. It’s actually incredibly versatile – the mild sweet flesh pairs well with almost all herbs and spices.
Best for: Asian recipes, Steaming, Stews
Commonly called Japanese Pumpkin, the kabocha is a bit knobby and dark green with beautiful light green striping (it also occasionally comes in a vivid red-orange color!). Kabocha is exceptionally sweet with a distinct chestnut flavor, and is a Japanese staple simply steamed or incorporated into traditional desserts. The skin, despite its worn appearance, becomes pleasantly chewy when cooked – and adds extra fiber to boot!
Best for: Soups, Baking, Roasting
Banana squash are giants among giants—averaging eight inches in diameter, two to three feet long, and up to 40 pounds, these massive squash often yield a double take. Depending on the variety, their thick skin turns salmon pink or smoky blue when ripe, and at peak ripeness the flesh is a Crayola-worthy pumpkin orange. This complexly sweet squash with roots in South America is a culinary powerhouse that pairs well with almost any spice or herb. Its flesh is smooth enough for baking or soups, but has enough textural integrity to stand up to roasting in cubes.
Red Kuri Squash
Best for: Asian recipes, Steaming, Roasting
This thick-skinned Japanese winter squash (also known as Hokkaido) is like a small, tear-drop shaped pumpkin, but without the ridges. The red kuri’s firm, full-flavored flesh is sweet and nutty, much like the kabocha. It has a pleasant dense texture that is wonderful steamed, stir-fried or roasted. Red kuri is an especially perfect candidate for recipes with an Asian flavor profile, though it would make a great addition to any Thanksgiving menu as well.
Best for: Decoration, Stuffing
An heirloom that made its commercial debut in 1820, Turk’s turban is unlike any other. Its orange body is capped by a bulbous protrusion bursting at the seam with white, green, and orange stripes. While it might not be the tastiest of winter squash, it makes the perfect conversation piece in an autumnal table-scape that can double as a soup or stuffing bowl during dinner!
Biological Family: CUCURBITA MOSCHATA
Best for: Roasting, Sautéing, Stews, Soups
Also known as the butternut pumpkin, the butternut squash is an iconic fall staple. Pale yellow outer skin covers its orange flesh, which is relatively light in texture. Good butternut squash is vine ripened until the flesh is deep orange and sweet. This high yielding squash is a true all-rounder: great roasted, toasted, puréed, baked, sautéed, stuffed, you name it. This squash is often peeled, but the skin is perfectly edible.
Best for: Baking
A stunning French heirloom also known as Musque de Provence. This magical squash is large, squat and deeply ribbed. Outside it’s a beautiful, smoky, rusty caramel color – inside, the flesh is deeply orange. With a hard skin not great for eating and a silky smooth, distinctly pumpkin-flavored flesh, they are best suited to pies and other baked goods.
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Best for: Baking
The Long Island cheese pumpkin – an ancient variety re-popularized by the Long Island Seed Company in the 1970s – is a bakers dream. Its orange flesh is silky smooth and sweet for the perfect puree. It’s no wonder it was one of the first squashes to have been domesticated by early North Americans for food! A solid matte buff color and simple squat shape are easy to recognize.
Biological Family: CUCURBITA PEPO
Best for: Roasting, Stuffing
Acorn squash is known for its distinctive, well, acorn-like shape and characteristic ridges. It comes in a rainbow of colors from the common dark green to golden or white. All boast bright orange flesh with a nutty, sweet full flavor. It falls in line with winter squash in taste, texture, and use, but is actually in the same biological family as summer squashes like zucchini! Who knew? Although it looks a bit like a gourd, acorn is an excellent eating squash. It’s most commonly halved or sliced and roasted, but can also be incorporated into soups, stews, pastas, or desserts. Some prefer to peel, but the skin is perfectly edible!
Best for: Ethnic recipes, Stews
Calabaza squash, also known as the West Indian Pumpkin, is actually native to Mesoamerica. Now, it’s a familiar site in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean as well as across the sea in SE Asia, Oceania, and India. It’s a lovely, large, squat squash with a beigey orange skin with hints of green– but it is usually peeled prior to use. The flesh is bright orange and sweet – much like butternut. It is excellent with a wide array of flavor profiles from Filipino stews to Indian curries to Mexican empanadas to El Salvadorian pupusas.
Best for: Decoration, Soups, Baking
Hybrid of a sweet dumpling and an acorn squash, the carnival squash is known for its festive orange, green, white, and yellow skin – a great way to liven up a fall centerpiece! Pale orange flesh becomes much richer, nuttier, and sweeter when roasted. Once roasted, it can be eaten on its own, but it’s especially special blended into soups or baked goods.
Best for: Roasting, Sautéing
The delicata squash, like the acorn, is technically a summer squash, but holds its own with the winter crew. It is hard-fleshed, but has a thin skin that is palatable to even the fussiest squash eater, especially when roasted. The flavor of this crowd-favorite is much like a mild sweet potato, making it a great candidate for just about any seasonal recipe.
Best for: Steaming
True to its name, this unassuming squash has light yellow flesh that, when cooked, falls apart in strands like – you guessed it – spaghetti. These “noodles” are mild in flavor, crisp, and a bit juicy. While they’re no show stopper on their own, they are the perfect foundation for a gluten free pasta sauce or low carb carbonara.
Best for: Decoration, Baking
A classic! Cute, medium sized pie pumpkins are a must in fall decorating – and unlike their larger carving cousins, their sweet, pumpkin-y flesh is perfect for puree destined for pumpkin lattes, pies, breads, cookies, and more.
Winter Squash, Vegetables, Cooking, Autumn, Fall, Guide, Hard Squash, Butternut, Kabocha, Kuri, Calabaza, Delicata, Pumpkin