Acorn squash is a member of the winter squash family, and, true to winter squash form, acorn squash has inedible hard, thin skin and firm flesh. It is roughly egg-shaped with thick ridges—or, you could say, like a ribbed acorn, hence its nickname. It is five to eight inches long, four to five inches across, and has a defined point at the bottom. The flesh is sweeter than summer squash, with a mellow nuttiness. The growing period is longer than summer squash, giving the gourd plenty of time to develop its deep flavor.
Along with the standard green variety, you may also run across orange and white acorn squash. Although available in many areas year-round, prime season for acorn squash is early fall through winter. Squash is one of the easiest vegetables to digest, is low in calories, and makes a nutritious, filling dish.
Acorn Squash Selection
It's difficult to judge an acorn squash by its outward appearance so you will need to test the vegetable by its weight and skin texture. It should feel heavy for its size with smooth, dull skin and absolutely no soft spots. Harvested when fully ripe, the average acorn squash weighs from one to three pounds; any larger and you risk getting a dry, stringy squash. When comparing, be aware that a lighter weight acorn squash has lost moisture through the skin and will be drier.
Look for some partial orange on the skin as a sign of maturity. On the other hand, too much orange coloring on the skin indicates an overripe squash which will be dry and stringy. A good balance between green and orange coloring is optimum. Shiny skin indicates it was picked before fully mature unless the producer has applied wax.
Acorn Squash Storage
Winter squash will last up to a month in a cool (50 to 55 F) dark cellar or storage area, but only about two weeks in the refrigerator. Ideally, only cut or cooked acorn squash should be refrigerated; they will suffer chill damage at temperatures below 50 F. Dry, hot air will cause loss of moisture, resulting in a shorter shelf life. Squash with a bit of the stem still intact will help slow down moisture loss.
Plan on using acorn squash within two weeks of purchase, since you never know how long it has already been in storage and under what conditions. If you grow your own, you have more control and thus a longer storage time (two to three months). Once cut, wrap raw pieces in plastic wrap, refrigerate, and use within four days. Cooked acorn squash can be sealed and refrigerated up to four days.
Before freezing, acorn squash must be cooked. Cook squash and remove the pulp from the skin. You can leave it in chunks or mash it. Place in airtight containers and freeze up to 10 to 12 months.
Acorn Squash Preparation
Before cooking, you'll need to cut the squash and remove the fibers and seeds from the center. To make the squash easier to cut, pierce the skin in a few spots, place it in a microwave oven, and heat on high for 2 minutes. Let stand for another few minutes before carving. The deeper the yellowish orange color of the flesh, the sweeter it is. Acorn squash can be steamed, broiled, and baked.