Winter Squash and Pumpkins
December 16, 2007
These are ideal crops to grow because they are so easy to keep in a cool dry place. For back room storage, select sound fruit, free of surface damage. Let it cure in a sunny but dry place, such as a porch or car port. Later, If your house is still too warm, a dry barn or shed is fine until colder weather. Then you can safely bring them inside. During this whole process, protect them from freezing. You should check them about once a week. If you find a bad spot, cut it away, and cook that fruit right away. Whole Pumpkins and Winter Squash can keep through the Fall and just into winter. The huge hard skinned varieties of Winter Squash, and full size Butternut Squash can keep much longer, some almost into Spring. I have not had good luck keeping any of the several smaller Butternut varieties any longer than pumpkins.
Unfortunately it is not safe to pressure can Winter Squash or Pumpkins at home. It should never be done in a water bath canner. In the very few home pressure canner directions I could find, it needs more than three hours of processing time. To me it is just too risky to even consider. You could buy canned pumpkin in the stores on sale after Thanksgiving. Perhaps they use much higher pressures than home canners will operate at.
Native Americans used to dry pumpkin and squash for long term storage. I think it was also to make it easier to carry, and because whole fruit would be in danger of freezing. I have used an electric dehydrator, but these fruit loose most of there flavor. The vitamins and calories should be preserved. I have an Indian recipe dating to the seventeen hundreds for corn bread made from equal amounts of dried pumpkin and corn meal. If you add more water, and boil it you get a cooked pudding or cereal like main dish.
Freezing is by far the best way to extend the harvest longer. Damaged fruit can be saved for later use too. I wish my freezers didn't use so much electricity, but they really are a convenience I enjoy for now.
If you have a real freezer, cooked Winter Squash and Pumpkins will keep for six months in tightly sealed containers. To prevent freezer burn, remove as much of the air as possible. For a month or two, the freezer section of a refrigerator works fine. I freeze one cup size containers to use in the small loaves of corn bread I make. By late in the Fall, you may have used up some of the foods you froze. Don't wait too long to freeze the squash or pumpkins. Stored in a cool room, they will gradually loose some flavor, and begin to get a little stringy, near the end of the times I listed in the first paragraph. Livestock will still appreciate them cut up fairly small. Chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and cattle will all delight in a Winter treat.
Both Winter Squash and Pumpkins are a rich source of vitamins. Winter Squash generally has twice the calories per serving compared to Pumpkin. Pies, breads, cakes, and other desserts can all be fortified with these vegetables, and they can be cooked and served like mashed potato too. When added to corn bread, it softens the texture, and adds vitamins, but you can hardly taste it. When served with beans, it makes a hearty meal.