Kitchen Window -- Winter Squash: New Faces In The Pumpkin Patch If you've had enough of the seemingly ubiquitous butternut squash soup, have no fear. Butternut and acorn squash are making way for varieties like kabocha and jarrahdale. Yes, squash is the latest "it" fruit, so it's time to go beyond butternut.

Winter Squash: New Faces In The Pumpkin Patch

David Deutsch for NPR
An assortment of winter squash on a candlelit dinner table
David Deutsch for NPR

By this fall, I couldn't face another bowl of butternut squash soup. For the past several years, it's seemed to be the first course at all restaurants, dinner parties and prepared food markets. Butternut squash is good, and it makes delicious soup, but enough already. Surely there is more to squash.

Then I began seeing them -- at farmers markets, specialty stores, regular old supermarkets. Squash in all shapes, sizes and colors with exotic names and intriguing possibilities.

Move aside butternut and acorn. Make way for kabocha and jarrahdale. Squash is the latest "it" fruit. We've gotten used to heirloom tomatoes and antique apples. Now there is an earth-toned rainbow of winter squash. Old American varieties have been reintroduced and others imported from Europe and Asia.

While summer squash are eaten when immature, winter squash are left to fully ripen on the vine. Their firm, dry texture makes them best when fully cooked. They also have hard rinds, so they can be stored over the winter in a cool, dry place.

About The Author

Bonny Wolf is Kitchen Window's contributing editor, a commentator on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday and regular contributor to the Washington Post food section. She is the author of Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes and Other Kitchen Stories (St. Martins 2006), and is working on a book about the foods of Maryland's Eastern Shore. More information is available at

Depending on the variety, the flesh of a squash lies on a spectrum from pale yellow to dark orange and is firmer than that of summer squash, so it must be cooked longer. Winter squash can be big or small, smooth-skinned or covered in warts, long and thin or wide and squat. Skin can be pale blue, red-orange, forest green, striped or mottled.

As Halloween nears, inquiring minds want to know -- is a squash a pumpkin (or a gourd for that matter)? "The genetic history of the pumpkin is so intertwined with the squash and the gourd that it's sometimes difficult to tell them apart," according to Texas A&M University's horticulture website. "Generally speaking, a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you cook and a gourd is something you look at." Except when they're not.

While squashes, gourds and pumpkins are all in the same genetic family, there are several species with different sizes, colors, textures and stems.

The big orange pumpkins with thick woody stems patiently waiting in fields to become jack o' lanterns are members of the pepo species. Keep them on the porch, not in the kitchen. They don't make good eating, although their cousin the Connecticut field pumpkin is pretty good for pies. Gourds also are in this group (don't eat them), as are some summer squash and zucchini.

Squash of the maxima species have yellower skin and softer stems. Most winter squash are in this category -- Hubbard, banana, buttercup, turban and others.

Varieties in the moshata species are usually long and oblong and have tan rather than orange skin. Think butternut. Much so-called "canned pumpkin" is really made from squash in this group.

Both Italian and French cuisines are full of recipes for zucca and potiron -- which loosely translates as pumpkin. The word "pumpkin," in fact, comes from the old French pompion, meaning "cooked by the sun," or ripe. Whatever they're called, they were unknown in Europe until after Columbus met the peoples of the Americas, who had been eating squash/pumpkins for thousands of years.

The word "squash" comes from a Native American word meaning "eaten raw." For Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands, squash was one of the three sisters -- the other two being corn and beans. The corn provides a climbing stalk for the beans that put nitrogen in the soil to nourish the corn. The squash leaves provide shade for the shallow roots of the corn.

It takes time to figure out what to do with which squash, but it's fun to experiment. In the meantime, they're beautiful to look at piled on the kitchen counter in the autumn light -- even the butternut.

A Squash Sampler

This is by no means a complete list. These are just some of the squashes now showing up at markets -- indoors and out. There are many more.

How To Handle Squash


  • Winter squash is prone to decay, so look at each one carefully before committing. Avoid any with soft spots or mold.
  • Choose squash that are heavy for their size and have dull, not shiny, rinds. The rinds should be firm. Soft rinds may mean a watery, flavorless squash. The heavier they are, the moister and tastier they are.


  • Winter squashes can be stored for up to six months. They should be kept away from direct exposure to light and extremes of temperature -- hot and cold. And they like good ventilation.
  • If they're being used for decoration, they should be eaten within a week or two or they'll dry out.
  • Cut squash can be wrapped and refrigerated for a few days.


  • After washing the squash rind, cut in half and remove the seeds and stringy matter in the cavity. You may set aside the seeds to roast later. Most squash are then peeled and cut in chunks to be steamed or roasted.
  • Winter squashes can be steamed, roasted or baked. They can be used in breads, pies and cakes or cooked in stews and soups.
  • A one-pound squash will provide about two servings after the rind and seeds are removed.
  • Cutting a big squash can take muscle. A heavy-duty knife or a cleaver will help. Or, bake the whole squash until it begins to soften, then cut.

Acorn squash are familiar to most Americans. They usually have dark-green, smooth skins but also come in orange, orange and green and one that looks like a splatter painting with a white, green and orange palette. Acorn squash are a little bland so are often sweetened with brown sugar or maple syrup.

Buttercup is one of my new enthusiasms. It was developed in 1932 at North Dakota Agricultural College, and many consider it an almost-perfect winter squash. The skin is a dark forest green, and it has a distinctive protrusion on the bottom. The orange flesh becomes creamy and sweet when cooked.

Butternut, we know: It has a long straight neck and a round bottom that holds the seeds. The skin is a pale peachy tan. There's a reason butternut is so popular. It's easy to peel and has a wonderful flavor. It's a great all-purpose squash.

Calabaza are commonly used in Central and South America, as well as in the Caribbean. They have a green mottled skin and bright orange flesh that is sweet and moist. Because they run large, they are often sold in cut pieces.

Cinderella pumpkins are French heirloom pumpkins that look like Cinderella's coach to the ball. They're bright orange and slightly flattened. In France, where they're called rouge d'etampes, they're often used as a tureen for a wonderful cheesy dish.

Delicatas are whitish and oblong with dark green (and sometimes orange) stripes. They're small (about one pound) early in the season and get much larger as the season progresses. They look a little like pale, fat cucumbers. Their skin is thin and even edible. The pale yellow flesh has a slight corn flavor. They make good shallow dishes. Cut in half lengthwise, bake and serve with lime chili butter, for example.

Hubbard squash (also called New England blue) are gray-blue with deep orange flesh reminiscent of a sweet potato. They're also huge: perfect for restaurants or sharing with friends.

Jarrahdale looks like a big blue pumpkin. Originally from Australia, it has a light orange, delicate flesh and a good texture for purees.

Kabocha squash sometimes is called Japanese pumpkin in recognition of its origins. Kabochas have dark green skin and a slightly flattened look. They also have brilliant flavor. Their dark orange flesh is dense and sweet.

Red Kuri squash are pear-shaped with reddish-orange wrinkly skin. The flesh is not fibrous and has a sweet flavor. This is a nice, versatile squash.

Spaghetti squash have pale yellow skin and such coarse flesh that when cooked, it can be pulled into long strands that resemble spaghetti. They're bland, but if the sauce is good enough, you get all of the nutrients of the squash and the illusion that you're indulging in pasta. If cooking spaghetti squash in the oven, puncture a few times so it won't explode.

Sweet Dumpling squash is pretty, small, round and looks like a little pumpkin. The rind is ivory colored with a little green in the grooves. The flesh is a pale yellow, smooth and dry, like a potato, with medium sweetness.

Turban squash look like, well, turbans. They're multicolored in shades of orange and green and make nice little soup tureens or decorations. They're better to look at than eat, though.