Listen . . . With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from trees
“November Night” by Adelaide Crapsey
Autumn falls with a chill, wrapping its tendrils across summer’s canvas, coloring parks, and country lanes burnt orange, red, and yellow, while evening descends earlier with autumn’s rising. Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving waft in the air as grocers and county fairs fill baskets with fall harvest—winter squash, ripe and ready for seasonal dishes. Autumn foliage pulls people from their homes, dressed in jackets, sweaters, and boots. A date with nature, they venture into parks or drive through the countryside past festive homes decorated for the season, and perchance, stop by a quaint café to enjoy hot apple cider or pumpkin-spiced lattes or apple picking at a local orchard, finally, arriving home for an evening of homemade apple pie.
Autumn invites home nesting, preparing for the cold and the holiday season. Front doors spruced with seasonal wreaths and decorations, candle-lit mantels and coffee tables suffuse homes with festive spirit. Flannel throws drape sofas; annual ornaments adorn side tables, like a cozy English cottage. When the nesting is complete, sit back, read a good book under a blanket, and enjoy your spruced up home with a bowl of butternut squash soup while the aroma of baking pumpkin and apple pies sweeten your cozy abode.
Winter squash grows on vines in various shapes and sizes—elongated, pear-shaped, round, and scalloped with flesh color ranging from golden-yellow to burnt-orange. After three months of growth, winter squashes are harvested when fully mature in late summer and fall. When stored in cool, dry places, they can last anywhere from one to three months. These vegetables are extremely nutritious, brimming with fiber, vitamin A, C, E, manganese, magnesium, and potassium, and provide numerous health benefits:
- Reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure
- Improves skin complexion and hair texture
- Increases energy, and
- Improves digestion
Types of Winter Squash
Acorn Squash is a small thick dark green squash with orange-yellow flesh and weighs one to two pounds. Its flavor is mild, sweet and nutty. Acorn squash can last at least a month if stored in a cool, dry space.
Banana Squash is a big cylinder-shaped squash weighing between ten to thirty-five pounds and can grow two to three feet in length, averaging eight inches in diameter. Its rind is a smooth salmon pink, green, or blue, with orange flesh. It has a rich, sweet, earthy taste. When stored in cool, dry places it keeps at least a month.
Buttercup Squash has a dark green color and an odd squat, round shape. Its brilliant orange flesh is sweet and creamy. When stored in dry, cool places it can keep for three months.
Butternut Squash, grown on a vine in the summer and harvested in the fall, is a favorite winter squash. It’s pear shaped with a smooth yellow-tan rind boasting a vibrant orange flesh and a nutty flavor. Butternut squash is sweeter than other winter squash. When this yellow-tan squash ripens, it turns a beautiful dark orange with orange pulpy flesh. Much like its cousin, the pumpkin, it has a sweet, nutty flavor that grows sweeter and richer in taste as it ripens.
Delicata Squash is the smallest of the squashes and is cylinder-shaped with thin yellow or green stripes and orange flesh. Delicata has a flavor similar to sweet potatoes.
Hubbard Squash, one of the largest squashes has a hard rind that varies in colors of deep green to gray or blue. Its flavor is similar to pumpkin.
Kabocha Squash resembles the butternut squash with its squat round shape except, its base which points up. Kabocha’s dull dark green rind contains a light yellow-orange flesh. The exterior is sometimes lumpy. Its flavor is incredibly sweet and nutty with a texture resembling a sweet potato and pumpkin blend. Stored in a cool, dry spot, it keeps at least a month.
Pumpkin has a round firm rind ranging from pale to dark reddish-orange and orange flesh with a sweet, earthy taste.
Spaghetti squash is pale cream to bright yellow with a cylinder shape. Its flesh, when cooked, develops strands resembling spaghetti but with mild flavor lacking the sweetness of the other squash. Stored in cool, dry spot, it will keep for at least a month.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Sweet Dumpling Squash is small and yellow striated with dark green or orange lines running vertically around its rind. It contains a starchy, sweet flesh with a flavor resembling corn. Stored in a cool, dry place, this squash will keep for three months.
Turban squash looks like a turban, and its bumpy rind ranges from green, orange, and yellow. Its flesh has a mild, nutty flavor.
Buying and Storing of Winter Squash
When purchasing winter squash, make sure its rind is hard, smooth, and blemish free. A hard exterior ensures longer storage life and if stored away from heat and moisture its shelf life is one to three months.
Butternut squash can be used in various recipes, especially during the holidays—soups, casseroles, mashed as an alternative for potatoes, and pureed for bread and desserts. Butternut squash seeds, like pumpkin seeds, although not eaten, are used to garnish dishes.
The toughest part of preparing butternut squash is cutting the hard shell. If this seems too intimidating, you can buy it already peeled and diced at your grocer, which may be a little more expensive than cutting and peeling it yourself. But pre-packaged squash can be a little bland. Fresh is preferred. Instead of cutting the hard uncooked shell, you can place the squash in the microwave which softens and loosens the skin, making chopping and dicing easier. Before microwaving, there are a few steps required:
- Use a fork and poke several holes in the flesh
- Cut off the top and bottom portion of the squash
- Microwave three to four minutes.
- Remove from microwave and let it cool, then with a knife or vegetable peeler, remove the flesh.
- Cut the squash in half. Scoop out pulp and seeds.
- Chop and dice
Curried Squash-Apple Soup
Popular in Barbados and Caribbean islands, curried butternut squash soup is served with thick crusty bread, salad, and dessert, which makes a wonderful autumn and winter meal.
Four Tablespoons butter (for vegans use olive oil)
Two Yellow Onions, chopped
One to two tablespoons curry powder
One Tart green apple
Two Pounds of butternut squash peeled and coarsely chopped
Four Cups of vegetable stock
1/4 Pine nuts or squash seeds for garnish
One Tablespoon tawny port
Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the butter or olive oil in a stock pot over a medium heat
- Add onions. Cook and stir for ten minutes or until soft
- Add garlic and curry powder, cook, and stir for one minute
- Stir in apples, squash, and stock. Cover and cook for twenty minutes until the squash is soft
- While the squash is cooking, toast the pine nuts (or squash seeds) in a 350-degree oven until golden brown for two to three minutes
- Remove the soup from the heat. Let cool slightly then transfer it to a food processor or blender and purée
- Pour back into the pot, reheat, and stir in the port and black pepper to taste
- Place in a bowl and garnish with pine nuts or squash seeds.