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Grow and Eat: Acorn squash a healthy, delicious fall staple

SALISBURY — Earlier in the week, we wrote about butternut squash. For this article, we will focus on acorn squash, another type of winter squash. Since winter is right around the corner, winter squash varieties are starting to become more popular in hearty dishes such as roasts and soups.
Acorn squash or Cucurbita pepo is a great winter squash to grow yourself. There are numerous varieties; many come in different sizes and colors. Some research that Cooperative Extension and the land grant universities are working on is discovering the best varieties for ornamental and culinary purposes. Most of this research has been performed at the mountain research stations. It is hoped that in the near future some of the same research will be performed in our growing area.
Acorn squash is similar in shape to the common acorn, hence the name. They are typically a green color but can occasionally have a splash of orange on the tops or sides. Recent variety trial acorn squashes are coming in colors of yellow, white and even variegated. Their flesh is a bright orange and makes excellent soups. It is quite delicious roasted.
To grow acorn squash is very similar to growing any squash. First, select a site with full sun, then take a soil sample. Once you receive the soil analysis, make all the necessary amendments. If you need help with a soil sample or reading them, contact your local Cooperative Extension agent.
Once you have prepared the soil, select the variety that suits your needs. Do you want to use the acorn squash for decoration or for culinary purposes or both? Choosing the variety will depend on your needs since some of the decorative varieties are not always the best tasting. You can plant acorn squash by seeds or transplants, whichever you prefer, just plant after the last frost. Once the outer skin of the acorn squash has hardened, the fruit is ready to harvest.
Acorn squash belongs to the same species as all squashes, including zucchini and yellow crookneck squash which are deemed the “summer” squash. The most common variety of acorn squash is dark green in color.
Considered one of the easiest vegetables to digest and low in calories, acorn squash makes a filling dish. Although not as rich in beta-carotene as other winter squashes, acorn squash is a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as small amounts of vitamins C and B, magnesium and manganese.
If harvested when fully ripe, the average acorn squash can weigh anywhere from one to three pounds. Acorn squash that are larger may be dry and stringy. Acorn squash are often difficult to select by outward appearance alone. When selecting your squash, pick it up. It should feel heavy for its size, with smooth, dull skin and absolutely no soft spots. Shiny skin indicates it was picked before fully mature, unless the producer has applied wax. Also look for some partial orange on the skin as a sign of maturity, but keep in mind that too much orange coloring on the skin indicates an overripe squash which will be dry and stringy. Choosing a squash with a good balance of both green and orange coloring is optimum.
When comparing, be aware that lighter weight ones have lost moisture through the skin and will be drier. Winter squash will last up to a month in a cool (50-55 degrees), dark cellar or storage area, but only about two weeks in the refrigerator. Ideally, only cut or cooked acorn squash should be refrigerated. Be sure to store them at temperature below 50 degrees or they will suffer chill damage. Likewise, dry, hot air will cause loss of moisture, resulting in a shortened shelf life.
Squash with a bit of the stem still intact will help slow down moisture loss. Plan to use acorn squash within two weeks of purchase, since you are not fully aware of how long it has already been in storage and under what conditions. Once cut, wrap raw pieces in plastic wrap, refrigerate and use within four days.
 

Baked Acorn Squash
1 medium acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Turn acorn squash upside down onto a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350-degree oven until it begins to soften, approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
Remove squash from the oven and turn onto a plate so that the flesh is facing upwards. Place butter and brown sugar into the squash, and place remaining squash over the other piece. Place squash in a baking dish (so the squash won’t slide around too much) while baking.
Place squash in the 350-degree oven and bake another 30 minutes.
Recipe taken from: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/acorn-squash/
This is the second in the Grow and Eat Holiday Series by Danelle Cutting, Cooperative Extension horticulture agent and local foods coordinator in partnership with food and consumer science agent Toi Degree.

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