If you’ve had a healthy harvest of winter squash and you’d like to keep some to eat throughout the winter, there are several ways for you to store winter squash, depending on your type of storage space.
If you’re planning to store whole squash, don’t wash it. Just brush off any dried soil and debris. You’ll wash your squash when it’s time to eat it.
All winter squash, with the exception of acorn squash, need to be cured before you can store them. Cure your squash by keeping them in a hot and humid spot for seven to 14 days. If you can, leave your squash in your garden or field during the curing time. Alternatively, you can take them off the ground and set them out in a single layer where the temperature is 80 to 85 degrees F and the relative humidity is 80 to 85 percent. This curing process helps the squash harden off and strengthen their skin. Do not cure acorn squash; it will actually have the opposite effect and will shorten the squash’s storage time. Do not wash squash until you’re ready to use it; just brush off any dried soil.
Unblemished winter squash with hard, cured skins can last in cold storage for anywhere from two to 12 months, depending on the variety. You need a cool, dark storage space, with a temperature between 50 to 60 degrees F and a relative humidity of 50 to 70 percent. This will help keep the squash from shriveling—humidity any higher than that can invite rot. Avoid storing squash in the refrigerator because it will only last about a week. Cool, dark spots are best.
In general, most squash can stay in cold storage from two to three months (although Hubbard squash can store for five to six months and there are a few varieties that can last for up to a year). The exception is acorn squash, which can only store for up to eight weeks.
Don’t let the squashes touch each other while they’re curing or when you put them into storage; you want to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Inspect your squash on a regular basis. If you find any developing spots on the rinds, remove them from storage and use them immediately.
If you have more squash than you know what to do with right away, consider freezing some for later. This is also a fine alternative if you don’t have cold storage space.
For mashed/pureed squash:
- Clean your squash and remove the pulp and seeds.
- Cook the squash until soft—boiling, baking, steaming, and pressure cooking are all good methods.
- When the squash is soft, let it cool, then scrape the flesh from the rind. Drain and mash or puree it.
- Scoop the mashed squash into freezer bags, flattening the bags and squeezing out the air. You can stack the bags in the freezer once they’re frozen solid.
For cubed squash:
- Clean squash and cut into cubes. Depending on the type of squash, you may want to peel the whole squash first, or cut the peel off the cubes as you go.
- Blanch the cubes in boiling water for three minutes, then transfer them to a colander sitting in chilled water.
- Drain cubes, pat dry with a paper towel, and spread the cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment.
- Put the cubed squash in the freezer for at least four hours.
- Transfer solidly frozen cubes to freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible.
Note: If you have a food sealer bag system, this is an excellent opportunity to put it to good use. Sealed bags are much better at protecting food from freezer burn.
Consider cooking your winter squash before freezing for improved texture:
- Boil the squash whole for about 30 minutes, or until they are fork-tender. Alternatively, roast whole winter squash in a 375 degree F oven for about an hour.
- Transfer cooked winter squash to an ice water bath and remove the skins (they should slide off easily).
- Cut, chop, or slice winter squash as you like.
- Spread them out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze them completely.
- Repackage frozen squash into freezer bags or containers.
- Use within a year.
- Defrost before cooking.
If you have a vacuum food sealer, use it to prevent freezer burn and extend the storage life of your squash crop.
Canning is a time-honored preservation method—and one you should only pursue if you have the right equipment. You must be careful to follow all canning directions to the letter in order to avoid botulism in your canned goods. We have a post in Food Gardening Daily that provides 10 rules to live by for pressure canning safety.
If you decide to can some squash, be sure to can only cubed squash, not mashed squash. The canning process does not adequately preserve squash when it’s mashed.
You can also dehydrate your harvested winter squash. Slice your winter squash into 1-inch strips and cut off the rind. Cut the strips into pieces 1/8-inch thick. Blanch the strips in boiling water for one minute; pat dry. Dry in a dehydrator for 10 to 16 hours or in a low-heat oven for up to 24 hours. The squash should have a consistency between tough and brittle when it’s done.
Store dried squash in an airtight container away from light.
Dried winter squash can be rehydrated for use in soups and stews. You can also grind or pulverize dried winter squash for use in soups, stews, smoothies, baking, and more.
How frequently do you harvest your winter squash? Please tell us what you look for when getting ready to harvest and how you preserve your harvest.