Preserving Butternut and Other Winter Squashes

Winter squashes like butternut and pumpkin
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There are a few good options when preserving pumpkin and other winter squashes. Good quality, whole squashes will keep for months under ideal conditions, but they can also be frozen, dehydrated, or canned.

Storing Whole Winter Squash

Left unpeeled, whole winter squash can keep at room temperature for at least 3 months. However, sometimes spots of mold occur that soften the outer layer and ultimately spoil the squash.

To prevent mold spots, commercial growers sometimes wax the outsides of winter squashes. If you are going to store unwaxed winter squashes, you can achieve the same effect by oil buffing them.

  1. Wash the squash thoroughly to remove any dirt.
  2. Dry completely, as it is important that the surface of the squash be completely dry to prevent mold.
  3. Put a small amount of vegetable oil on a paper towel or clean cloth and rub the oil all over the surface of the squash. Be sure to work the oil into the crevices of scallop-shaped squashes such as acorn and delicata varieties.
  4. Buff off any excess oil. The squash should be just barely shiny but not greasy to the touch.

Freezing Winter Squash

Cooked and frozen pumpkin and butternut squash purees are ready to use in pies, soups, muffins, and other dishes. It's a convenient way to store the winter veggie.

If you've ever tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch and been disappointed in the watery results, make sure you're buying a variety that is specifically meant to be used for pie. These have been bred to have lower water content. It's also a good idea to roast the pumpkin rather than boiling or steaming it.

Follow these steps to freeze pumpkin or other winter squash,:

  1. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash halves cut-side down in a baking dish and pour in 1/2-inch of water.
  2. Bake in a 400 F oven until the flesh of the squash is completely cooked and the peel is starting to show a few brown spots. This will take 40 minutes to one hour.
  3. Turn the squash over and let cool for 10 minutes. Scoop out the cooked flesh with a spoon.
  4. At this point you can freeze the cooked squash as is, but we suggest pureeing it first either using a food processor or by mashing thoroughly with a potato masher. Pureeing the squash first gives you a ready-to-use product later on. Do not add liquid when you puree the pulp.
  5. Pack the cooked squash into freezer bags and store the bags horizontally for the most efficient use of freezer space. Alternatively, pack the squash into upright freezer containers leaving one inch of headspace. Either way, measure the squash before freezing it and label clearly with the amount.

Dehydrating Winter Squash

Dehydrated pumpkin and other winter squash work well for soups and less so for baking. The advantages of using this preservation method are the lightweight and little storage space required, plus the final product will keep indefinitely if stored away from direct light and heat.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Peel and seed the squash. Cut into pieces 1/4-inch thick and one to two inches long.
  2. Blanch the squash in the boiling water for three minutes. Drain. Spread on dehydrator trays, leaving space between the pieces so that air can circulate around them.
  3. Dry at 125 F until brittle. Store in airtight containers away from direct light or heat.
  4. To use, pour boiling hot water over the dehydrated squash pieces and let steep for 15 minutes before draining and proceeding with your recipe (save the soaking liquid to use as broth).

Canning Pumpkin

Two important food safety notes when canning winter squash: You must pressure can pumpkin and other winter squash. Boiling water bath canning is not a safe method for unsweetened, unpickled squash. Secondly, it is not safe to home can pureed pumpkin and winter squash because of their density. You need to do chunks.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Blanch the squash chunks in the boiling water for two minutes.
  2. Remove the blanched squash with a slotted spoon and transfer to clean pint or quart canning jars (it is not necessary to sterilize the jars for this recipe).
  3. Add two teaspoons per pint or one tablespoon per quart of lemon juice to each jar.
  4. Pour the blanching liquid over the squash and lemon juice. The squash should be completely immersed in the liquid, but there should still be 1/2-inch of headspace in each jar.
  5. Screw on the canning lids. Pressure can at 10 pounds pressure, 55 minutes for pint jars, 90 minutes for quarts (adjust the times if necessary for high altitude canning).