Winter squash are in season in Seattle farmers markets from September through February. For pumpkins (a type of winter squash), the season is usually shorter, from October-November. Using any of several food preservation methods, you can extend the winter squash season easily from one growing season to the next.
The easiest and most convenient ways to preserve winter squash and pumpkin for use through spring and summer is by cellaring or freezing. However drying, canning, and fermenting offer other options you may want to consider. Listed below is a brief overview of the methods for preserving any type of winter squash along with recipe ideas for enjoying this healthful vegetable.
Cellaring is any form of storage that holds food in optimum condition for an extended period and is a common method for preserving winter squash. Store whole winter squash in a root cellar or other cool (45-55°F), dark, dry place, such as a basement or garage, or spare refrigerator for 3-6 months. Whole pumpkins and winter squash keep longer if they have at least a 2 inches of stem still attached. In a root cellar, store squash on clean shelves without touching each other or by hanging in mesh bags . If stored at room temperature (60-70°F), their storage life shortens to 1-3 months. Check stored squash every week by feeling for soft spots or looking other signs of spoilage such as shriveling or mold. Another great way to store winter squash is to cook it and then freeze it.
Freezing is easy to do and the best way to preserve cooked and mashed pumpkin purée. Winter squash have hard rinds, which protect it from spoilage. This hard rind can be difficult to cut when the squash is raw. Therefore, cook it whole, which softens the rind and makes it easy to cut. Pierce the rind of hard squash in a few place with a sharp knife and place in a baking dish. Place dish in a 350°F oven and bake until tender. Depending on the size of the squash (average 1-3 pounds), squash will become tender in 30 to 90 minutes. When fully baked, a sharp knife should easily pierce the rind and flesh. Cool the squash until you can handle it comfortably (about 30 minutes). Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and peel off the rind or scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash the squash and pack into in freezer containers or zipper-style bags.
Drying the flesh of winter squash is not a recommended, unless you cook and mash it as described for freezing, and then spread it thin and dry it as you would fruit leather. These dried sheets of squash may be used in soups or reconstituted to make pumpkin pie. However, I have partially cooked squash, cut it into small cubes, and dried the cubes for adding to soups or stews. This is a fairly labor-intensive process and other methods of preserving winter squash are easier to do.
Drying pumpkin and squash seeds is a great way to use something you normally discard. Note that drying (between 100-120°F) dries out but does not brown the seeds. However, roasting (at 250°F) until crisp and lightly browned produce slightly different results. Boil seeds in twice their volume of salted water for 10 minutes before drying to produce crisper dried or roasted seeds. If desired, remove the hull after parboiling by pinching the narrow end and squeezing until the seed slips out of the hull. Dried pumpkin seeds make a great snack and add nutty goodness to baked goods. Ground seeds make a flavorful thickener in soups and stew. Ground squash seeds may also be used to make a horchata (pronounced or-CHA-tah). This beverage, prevalent in Spain and Latin American countries, is made from ground nuts, seeds, herbs, and grains such as rice or barley. Horchata is often sweetened and sometimes spiced or flavored with other ingredients. These ingredients are blended with water or milk and strained before drinking. Substitute pumpkin seeds and their pulp in this basic Melon Horchata Recipe or spice it up with this Horchata Recipe with Chocolate and Pumpkin Seeds.
Canning winter squash cubes must use the pressure canning method. There are no safe recipes for canning pumpkin in a boiling water bath. Also, there is no safe method for canning pumpkin butter or mashed pumpkin purée; you must only use the pressure canning method for cubes of pumpkin or winter squash.
The most popular types of winter squash are acorn, butternut, and spaghetti. In Asian cuisine, kabocha is popular and related to hubbard squash varieties. Cut pieces of large squash in grocery stores are often a type of hubbard squash. Use any of the above food preservation methods for your favorite variety of winter squash or pumpkin.