Curing Squash for Better Flavor

A prime winter squash is impossible to get if you don’t put enough time and effort to cure it. Learn how curing squash leads to better flavor, texture and overall quality.


| December 2012



Courge Butternut

If we want prime winter squash, we must select premier gourmet varieties, then grow and cure them ourselves.

Photo By Fotolia/Sonia Chatelain

In The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) scientist and gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields—resilience science, climate change, sustainable agriculture and more. In this book you’ll learn how to garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change; grow, store and cook different varieties of her five “key crops”; and keep a home laying flock of ducks or chickens. Deppe didn’t just write this book, she lives the principles in it every day, and you can, too, with her expert advice. In this excerpt from chapter 10, “Squash and Pumpkins,” learn how curing squash brings out the best flavor and texture for cooking. 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.

Why You Can’t Buy a Prime Winter Squash

Bad squash, like bad coins, tend to drive out the good. Wherever bad coins circulate, people keep back the good ones and spend the bad. Soon only bad coins are circulating. The grower who picks squash too early is the first to market. He beats out those who grow their squash to full maturity by weeks. Customers see those first displays of squashly beauty in the fall and celebrate the season by buying one. Then they try to eat it. Then they remember why they don’t usually buy squash. So year after year, the customer is discouraged from buying squash, and year after year, the fact that squash can be a spectacular, gourmet-quality food remains largely a secret.

Squash in the supermarkets and even those in the farmer’s markets are often not of the best varieties. However, even the good early varieties are picked immature. Then they are sold uncured. Cucurbita maxima (the most common “winter squash”) varieties should have a full month of curing before going to market. Farmers are not set up to do that, and customers don’t know that they should, and it isn’t worth the effort anyway if the squash isn’t full grown. If we want prime winter squash, we must select premier gourmet varieties, then grow and cure them ourselves.

Curing Squash: Three Squash Species, Three Curing and Use Patterns

There are three major squash species grown and used in the United States and Canada: Cucurbita maxima, C. pepo, and C. moschata. (A fourth, Cucurbita mixta, isn’t widely grown, as it requires too much heat for most people in the United States to grow and has poor flesh. In Mexico, however, there are many mixta varieties, which are grown primarily for their edible seeds. I won’t cover C. mixta.)

Squash varieties of the Cucurbita maxima species need a full month of storage indoors to cure into prime quality. Many max varieties will keep several months. Some varieties actually become sweeter and develop more intense flavors for six months or more of storage. ‘Sweet Meat-Oregon Homestead’ is actually sweeter and more flavorful at six months than when harvested and is still only getting better. Some varieties, such as ‘Sweet Meat-Oregon Homestead’ and ‘Blue Hubbard’, are very large and are especially nice for those who want to use prime winter squash as a major part of the homestead food supply. There are also prime smaller varieties such as ‘Buttercup’, for those who just want a meal at a time for a person or two. The better-keeping max varieties can provide prime squash through March and even beyond. The very largest varieties of orange pumpkins, which are not culinary quality, are also maxes.





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