A guide to winter squashes

All winter and summer squashes belong to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae.

Why are they  called winter Squashes?

Winter squashes are harvested when mature unlike summer squashes that are harvested when immature. They have a thick rind (skin) and a longer shelf-life compared to summer squashes. Their skin hardens during storage and is mostly inedible. The seeds are discarded but pumpkin seeds can be eaten if toasted and husked.

What is the colour of the flesh?

The flesh is  orange or yellow, has beta carotene and complex carbohydrates. It becomes firm with storage and is often superior in flavour compared summer squashes. Spaghetti squash is unique with a stringy texture and a rather bland taste.

By Californiacondor [GFDL), CC-BY-SA-3.0 () or CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons

What about the size?

Winter squashes vary greatly in size from small acorn squashes to Hubbards, weighing 15 pounds (7kg) or more and pumpkins can reach 200 pounds (100kg).

What about their colour?

The colour of winter squashes ranges from white to yellow to orange, green and even light blue. The most popular winter squashes are acorn, butternut and hubbard (The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition)

How to store winter squash

Winter squash can keep up to three months at home and longer in a commercial facility. Store in a cool, dry place above 50ºF (10ºC). Cut squash will last up to one week, wrapped airtight, in the fridge crisper.

Availability of Winter Squash

Winter squashes are available late summer, throughout fall and winter, becoming scarce in spring.

Shopping tips for Winter Squash

The longer the winter squash grows the sweeter it will be. The squash should feel heavy for its size and the rind should be smooth, dry, dull and free of cracks or soft spots. A shiny rind indicates that he squash was picked too early and will not have full sweetness. Deep colour is a sign of a good winter squash. Pick those with stems attached (indicates quality). The stems should be rounded and and dry not collapsed, blackened or moist.

Acorn Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata)

Acorn squash is a small acorn shaped winter squash that tapers at the apex. It can weigh up to 1kg (2.2Ib) and measures about 6-inches long.

It has a smooth hard rind with deep ridges that make peeling it very difficult. The colour of the skin (rind) is variable depending on the variety. Acorn squashes can be dark green with orange-yellow markings. They can also be orange or white in colour or variously variegated.

The flesh is golden (yellow-orange), firm, and nutty, for all varieties. It has a slightly stringy texture and sweet flavour. Acorn is available all year round with a peak in late summer to early spring.

Tip: The green variety of  acorn squash may have splashes of orange-yellow, however avoid those that have orange-yellow on more than half the surface.

Banana Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Banana squash has an elongated shape and thick rind. Depending on the cultivar, the skin can be , green, light blue, salmon pink, ivory, pale yellow, orange or variegated.

User:Badagnani [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons
The size can be up to 3ft (90cm) long and 8-inches (20cm) in diameter. The average weight is about 10Ib (9kg) but can reach 35Ib (16kg).

The flesh is thick, finely textured and firm with a bright orange flesh. The flavour is rich, sweet and earthy with sweeter blue and green varieties.

How to Cook Banana Squash

Banana squash can be steamed, roasted, baked or grilled.

Buttercup squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Buttercup squash has a turban shape (a flattish top) and dark green skin, with yellow patches and lighter green stripes.

It weighs three to five pounds (1-2kg). It is heavy with a dense, yellow-orange flesh which is sweet but somewhat dry.

Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata)

Butternut Squash myfavouritepastime.com

Shape: elongated bell-shaped squash with a tan smooth skin (rind) and deep orange flesh. The skin is softer than Hubbard or acorn.

Size: weighs 2-4 pounds (0.9-2kg)

The flesh  is a deep orange color, mildly sweet, with a distinctive butterscotch flavour that most people find delicious. The smaller squashes tend to be the sweetest.

Cooking: They are best steamed or baked and are excellent topped with maple syrup or sprinkled with brown sugar and butter before baking!

Tip: butternut squash should be uniformly tan with no tinge of green.


Delicata Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo)

By Green Mountain Girls Farm [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Also known as Bohemian squash or sweet potato. squash

Shape and size: Oblong, 1-2 pound (0.5-1kg). The skin is cream to pale yellow with green to orange strips.

The delicata squash has a moist, creamy yellow flesh that tastes and smells like a blend of corn, butternut squash and sweet potato. It’s sweet.

Cooking: They are best steamed or baked.


Golden Nugget Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Golden nugget is an orange skinned squash lined with fine ridges. It resembles a miniature pumpkin, weighs about 2Ib (0.9kg) or less with a diameter of 3-4 inches (7-10cm). usually harvested with 2-3 inch stem attached to extend shelf life.

Flesh: the flesh is moist, smooth and bright orange in colour. It has a very mild squash flavour, which can range from very sweet to a more bland flavour. It has a firm, starchy texture after cooking.

Cooking: The seeds can be scooped out and the squash baked whole like pumpkins or split and baked in halves like acorns. It can also be cubed and then roasted, steamed, boiled, or sautéed. It can also be pureed after cooking.

Store in a cool dry place above 50ºF (10ºC) for 1-2 months.


Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

The hubbards are an extensive group of squashes usually plump in the middle and more tapered at the neck. The skin is hard and bumpy, and varies in colour from green to light blue to light golden or orange.

Size: the smallest weighs about 5 pounds (2.2kg) and largest, about 15 pounds (7kg), so their popularity has diminished. They may be sold pre-cut in the supermarket.

The hubbards have a very sweet, dry orange flesh with a thicker and firmer texture than fresh pumpkin. They are excellent in pumpkin pies because they “set up” easier and require less sweetener than pumpkin.


Kabocha Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Kabocha By Cota (transferred by Eugene van der Pijll)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Japanese variety of C. maxima. Also known as kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin in North America.  A popular cultivar in Australia is called Kent or Jap pumpkin.

The mustard colour flesh of the kabocha squash is very sweet and rich tastiing.

Its texture is floury dry, like a balance between a sweet potato and a pumpkin.

Cooking: It has the highest sugar content of any squash, and is excellent baked as a side dish or stuffed.

Oranghetti Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)

Oranghetti is an oblong-shaped spaghetti squash variety that is orange instead of yellow. It has a thick, hard, golden-orange rind, with small tan flecks on the rind. The flesh is also golden-orange, with mild flavour. Once cooked, the strands of squash in the center can be scooped outand cooked up much like pasta. (Melissa.com)

Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo)

About 99% of the pumpkin sold are used as Jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. Most o-lanterns belong to a cultivar called ‘Connecticut Field’ and are often too large and stringy to eat. (they range from 20-200 pounds (9-90kg).

The cultivar used for pie filling and cooking is called ‘Sugar Pumpkin’. It’s smaller, sweeter with a close grained flesh.

There are other several miniature cultivars that can be eaten fresh. Most people prefer canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin can be eaten raw and is delicious finely grated and served in combination with grated carrots and beets as a base for salads..

Tip: pumpkin should have a rich orange colour and should keep in a cool dry place for about  a month.


Red Kuri Squash

By Joho345 assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
The red kuri squash has a very rich, sweet flavor that almost has a spiciness to its taste.

Although not as thick in texture as the kabocha, it still holds together well and is excellent either baked either whole or split.

Spaghetti Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)

Spaghetti squash is also known as vegetable spaghetti or noodle squash.

It’s am oval shaped yellow squash about 24cm (9-inches) long and 0.75kg (1.5Ib) or more in weight

When cooked, the creamy golden flesh separates into miles of swirly, crisp-tender, spaghetti-like strands.The taste is rather mild to bland.

Use as a pasta substitute with your favorite sauce and this squash comes to life, with far fewer calories than pasta!

  1. How to cook Spaghetti Squash
  2. How to cook spaghetti squash: 2


Sweet dumpling Squash

Like the golden nugget the sweet dumpling is small and serves only one person. It can be cooked whole.

The skin is light coloured with dark green stripes.

The flesh is moist with a sweet, tender flavour.

Turban Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Turban Squash. Photo taken by Trollderella Creative Commons

Although often used as a gourd for decoration purposes, the turban squash is very edible.

it is turban shaped with an orange base and bright stripes in several colours

Its orange-yellowish flesh is very sweet with a hazelnut-like flavor that most people find very delicious. Its texture is dry.



White Fall (Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)

A cultivar of spaghetti squash it’s larger and creamy white

Winter Crookneck

Cucurbita mixta

Cucurbita mixta includes the cushaw group of cultivars including Golden Stripe Cushaw which is the best, Silver edges-grown for its large and tasty silver-edged seeds, Japanese pie also called Chinese Alphabet Squash, and the dessert cultivar Apache Giant.

A list of Squashes

Cucurbita moschata

  1. Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata)

Curcubita maxima

  1. Banana Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  2. Buttercup squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  3. Golden Nugget Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  4. Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  5. Kabocha Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
  6. Turban Squash (Cucurbita maxima)

Cucurbita pepo

  1. Field Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo)
  2. Delicata Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. pepo)
  3. Oranghetti Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)
  4. Spaghetti Squash(Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)
  5. White fall (Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata)
  6. Acorn Squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata)

Useful References 

  1. Winter Squashes: shoppes guide.
  2. The Modern Farmer Guide to Winter Squash Varieties.
  3. Winter Squash Guide.
  4. Todd and Diane’s Guide to Winter Squash and Pumpkins.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

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