The Winter Squash Eating Experience
Differences Between Eating Quality Among the Types
by Pete Zuck, Product Manager for Winter Squash
For those looking to grow and enjoy winter squash to its best advantage, our job is to help make the process easier and more successful.
To help differentiate the eating experience that each type of winter squash provides, I've compiled an overview of the main types Johnny's offers. I've highlighted some personal favorites, as well, hoping to inspire you to try something new. Scroll down for a look at our "menu"!
By the way, in a separate article we explain Why Some Winter Squash Tastes Better Than Others, detailing the variables that factor in to create a great-tasting squash, and defining the qualities most sought after in breeding superior winter squash and edible pumpkins — one of our breeding team's strong suits. Follow these best-practice guidelines as you choose, grow, harvest, and store your squash, so that no matter what variety you grow, it tastes great when it comes time to eat it.
And our Winter Squash Storage Chart shows at a glance the optimal curing and storage periods for the various types. This should help you plan ahead, and enable you and your customers to enjoy each type at the pinnacle of its eating quality.
Whether you're brand new to growing or a seasoned winter squash expert, I hope this information encourages you to make space for at least one delicious new variety or type of winter squash this season.
These are the most delectable of the pepo squashes, often much sweeter than their close cousins, the green acorns. Delicatas in particular are wonderful to eat because they have very thin, edible skin when cooked; you don't have to bother with peeling them. Sweet dumplings have similarly sweet flavor in a slightly smaller package. 'Jester' is a JSS-bred variety that falls somewhere between an acorn and a delicata — like 'Sweet Dumpling,' it is superior to your average green acorn in flavor and sweetness, and generally provides a slightly larger serving than 'Sweet Dumpling.' All three feature the same green-on-white color contrast that makes an attractive fresh-market display. Learn More
I consider kabocha to be the pinnacle of winter squash, and I have been known to carry on ad infinitum about them — the dry, flaky texture; the incomparable sweetness; the complex flavor; the edible skin; the incredibly long storage. Kabocha is the winter squash of record in Japan, and I often wonder when it will finally see the limelight here in the US. The texture is more like that of roasted red potato, so if you are among those who think that squash eats like baby food, you will find kabocha to be a welcome change. A few of us at Johnny's research farm keep personal stashes of 'Winter Sweet', and around the first of February it starts showing up in the lunchroom. If you have not roasted a properly cured kabocha squash on a cold winter night, you are really missing out — here's one of my favorite recipes! Learn More
Butternuts are the ideal "ingredient" squash. While they are perfectly fine roasted on their own with a little butter and salt, their smooth, moist texture and uncomplicated sweetness make them the perfect base for pies, soups, curries — you name it, butternuts can adapt to the recipe. Johnny's has bred two workhorse butternuts with high sugars and more manageable size, 'Metro PMR' and 'JWS 6823 PMR'. They also feature good powdery mildew resistance and short vines that professional growers will appreciate. Our recent AAS-Winner, 'Butterscotch PMR', is the most flavorful of all, and features the same PMR, and an even shorter vine than 'Metro' or 'JWS 6823.' So now we have all the bases covered, no matter what your butternut needs may be. Long storage is another benefit of butternuts, although the diminutive 'Butterscotch' will only keep for a couple of months. Learn More
Acorns are great for experiencing the first taste of roasted winter squash as the first chill of fall creeps in. Unlike butternuts, buttercups, and kabochas, they do not store well, and their peak eating quality is reached within 6–8 weeks of harvest. The exception is 'Starry Night,' a Johnny's-bred organic acorn that is exceptional in many ways, including its ability to retain its smooth texture and sweet flavor right through the New Year. Split them down the middle, fill each half with a dollop of butter and a spoonful of maple syrup, roast and enjoy while you ponder the coming of another winter. Simple. Learn More
Spaghetti squash has enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity as a whole-food alternative to pasta. While spaghetti squash has lower nutritional density and less longevity in storage than most other winter squashes, its carbohydrate profile and ability to blend seamlessly with sauces and oils make it a versatile choice for easy meals that won't slow you down. Learn More
Buttercup squash is a lot like kabocha with a belly button — but generally a little larger, a little moister, and not as nuanced in terms of flavor. These qualities allow buttercups to pair nicely with other flavors and textures, such as apples, grains, nuts, and cheeses. 'Bonbon' is one of the best out there. Learn More
Hubbards are an old tradition, and they are great for soups, ravioli stuffing, and other utilitarian purposes when you require a large quantity of squash flesh with mild flavor. They are also very nutritious. We grouped 'North Georgia Candy Roaster' with the hubbards because it is a maxima squash, but the 'Roaster' boasts much better flavor than the true hubbards. This fall, I split a 'Candy Roaster' lengthwise, deseeded it, poured pumpkin pie filling right into the two halves, and baked it for dessert. It was fantastic! Learn More