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Overwhelmed by winter squash?

A cool summer in Minnesota and much of the Midwest could result in fewer pumpkins for sale this fall. Canned pumpkin and fresh pumpkins are already in short supply at many grocery retailers in our area. Bad news for those of us who carve jack-o-lanterns and yearn for fresh pumpkin bars and pie. Good news for those of us who are inundated by winter squash.

Winter squash come in various sizes and shapes and have hard outer rinds that surround sweet flesh. Unlike summer squash, winter squash must be cooked. They're usually baked or steamed. Winter squash is not only tasty, it's also good for you. Squash is an excellent source of vitamin A, rich in complex carbohydrates such as starch and fiber, and contain a variety of nutrients, including iron, niacin, potassium and beta carotene.

Some of the most popular winter squash are acorn squash. They are relatively small and are easily cut in half and baked. Their hard rind makes them difficult to peel and cube.

Butternuts are known for their moist, nutty flavor. They are easily peeled with a vegetable peeler, and are small enough to use in one meal.

Sweet and tasty, buttercups have a drier flesh, a very hard rind (use an extra sturdy, sharp knife) and tend to be good keepers.

Delicatas are very sweet and nutty. They are a moist squash and can be used in place of sweet potatoes. They don't store for as long as buttercups, so eat them first.

Banana squash are very large - from 15 to 50 pounds. They have golden flesh and can be used in sweet and savory dishes.

Pick winter squash when their ground spot turns from white to cream or yellow. Allow them to dry in the sun for a week to 10 days to cure their rind. Wipe the exterior, especially around the stem area, with a 10 percent bleach solution to remove external bacteria, and store in a cool (50 degree), dry spot. Under proper storage conditions, acorns will last from five to eight weeks, butternuts from two to three months and buttercups should keep three months or longer.

Here's my favorite recipe for a tasty winter squash dessert:

3 cups fresh, mashed winter squash (I prefer jumbo pink banana)

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 to 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla (or 1 Tbsp. dark rum)

1-1/2 cups milk

Whisk ingredients together and pour into an oven safe dish. Bake in preheated 350° oven for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and top with:

Pecan streusel topping:

Combine 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Mix together with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Put topping on squash dessert. Return to oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the custard is set and the topping is lightly browned. Serve warm or cold.

Until next time, enjoy your squash and happy harvesting!

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie."

- Garfield