There are many varieties of squash—usually classified as either winter or summer squash—and folks often ask about the difference between the two types, as well as which winter varieties are best to grow. Here’s a quick guide to my favorite winter squash varieties.
This year, we had a bumper crop of winter squash to store (which made up for a poor harvest of summer squash and zucchini). The plants were content to stay in their own bed until the neighboring garlic was harvested in late July.
Then the vines leapt over the path into the empty bed and took off. Even though the bed was covered with straw they managed to put down new roots and made themselves at home. Having twice the space to grow in, they produced twice the crop.
Winter Squash vs. Summer Squash
Summer squash (also known as marrow), is a tender, warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout North America during the warm, frost-free season. We’re basically talking about zucchini and yellow squash; they all taste the same but they grow in different shapes and sizes.
Summer squash is harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures (unlike winter squash, which is harvested after the fruit matures). It grows on bush-type plants that do not spread (unlike winter squash, which grow on vines).
Image: Various types of summer squash. Credit: Ivana Lalicki/Shutterstock
Winter squash come from the same family as summer squash—Cucurbita— but branch from there into 4 different species:
- Cucurbita pepo includes acorn, delicata, Connecticut field pumpkin, and spaghetti squash.
- Cucurbita maxima includes banana, buttercup, kabocha, and hubbard squash.
- Cucurbita moschata includes butternut, Long Island cheese pumpkin, and futsu squash.
- Cucurbita argyrosperma includes cushaw squash.
Acorn Squash Stuffed With Sausage and Apple. See the recipe! Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner.
We have grown many kinds of winter squash over the years—acorn, buttercup, red kuri, black futsu, speckled hound, North Georgia candy roaster, and blue hubbard—but we have found that our favorites are delicata, spaghetti, good old ‘Waltham’ butternut, and ‘Tetsukabuto’ (the Japanese pumpkin).
Delicata gets harvested first and eaten right away. It has such thin, tender skin that it doesn’t keep well but you can eat it skin and all. They are usually gone before the other squashes are even harvested.
Image: Delicata squash. Credit: JackK/Shutterstock
Spaghetti squash is nothing like the other fleshy winter squashes in texture or flavor. Cut in half and roasted or steamed until soft, the inside is stringy—like spaghetti—and can be fluffed up and pulled out of its shell with a fork. Served with fresh tomato sauce, it is guilt-free pasta.
Image: Spaghetti Squash. Credit: VM2002/Shutterstock
Waltham butternut is an AAS winner from 1970 and an old standby. It has tan skin and a long neck that is solid squash; the seed cavity is in the bulbous end. Very sweet and smooth, it is my favorite for steaming and mashing.
Image: Butternut Squash. Credit: Pixabay
‘Tetsukabuto,’ The Japanese Pumpkin
‘Tetsukabuto’ is a hybrid cross between moschata and maxima and it is the best of both worlds, very disease and pest resistant while having incredibly sweet and creamy flesh. It is the longest keeper as well. We have had them last in storage until the next summer. Its vines are such strong growers that they are used as root stock for grafting melons and cucumbers to prevent diseases. It does need a pollinator so it has to be grown with another moschata or maxima in the same vicinity.
No problem for us, since we grow butternut in the same bed with it and both do very well together. Since they are ridged, I have never tried to peel them; instead, I just cut them in half and bake with a little bit of water in the pan. They are the best tasting squash I have ever eaten!
Why Should You Eat Winter Squash?
Winter squash should be an important part of your winter diet. They are an excellent source of vitamins A & C, fiber, magnesium, niacin, folate, iron, and potassium. The darker the flesh, the more beta-carotene the squash has to offer.
They can be baked, roasted, steamed, sauteed, mashed, or pureed and put into soup, pasta, pies, breads, and muffins! Try this Squash Risotto that just keeps on going, or these Harvest Squash Rolls which work with any winter squash variety. When shopping, look for a squash that feels heavy and has no soft spots. Make squash a highlight of your winter meal!
What are your favorite varieties of squash to grow? Comment below!