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Prairie Fare: All Eyes on Squash
By: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service - 10/11/2017

"We live an exciting life," my husband commented as he flipped a butternut squash on its side.

We were at a grocery store on a Saturday evening. An attractive display of colorful squash and pumpkins caught my eye, and I pulled my phone out of my purse to take a photo.

I stepped back to survey the appearance of the squash display. I began rearranging some squash because I didn't want the price tags to show. I asked my husband to help. He was a good sport, although I think he was worried that we'd get in trouble for "tampering with a produce display."

No squash were injured in my spur-of-the-moment photo shoot, by the way.

"I might be helping them sell more squash with my column," I replied as I moved a buttercup squash to even out the colors. I walked back a few steps to frame my photo.

I think plant breeders had fun developing these interesting fruits for the market. I noted a "Carnival" squash looking festive with its splatters of cream and shades of green on an orange base. The "Sweet Dumpling" squash was smaller and cream-colored with dark green ridges.

The attractive "Turban" squash had a large "cap" (or turban) with orange, cream and green stripes. I noted the dark green acorn squash, which gets its name for obvious reasons. The creamy colored "Delicata" squash had fine green strips. If I cooked the pale yellow, elongated "Butternut" squash, it would have a pumpkinlike flavor.

I noticed some "Spaghetti" squash in the mix. This shiny yellow squash has flesh that splits into strands that resemble spaghetti.

A column idea had sparked in my brain. As I walked around the corner, I found another squash display. My husband looked at me sideways with raised eyebrows and a grin. I only moved one squash this time before I took another photo.

Although squash and pumpkins could be used as ornaments to decorate your table or front steps, make room for them on your plate. Squash are nutrition all-stars that are high in carotenoids, which are pigments that our body converts to vitamin A. This vitamin plays a role in eye, skin and mucous membrane health.

Squash are "in season" and they are a tasty and nutrient-rich addition to menus. Technically, squash typically is used in pumpkin pie filling. Sometimes, the ornamental "pumpkins" on display actually are squash.

Squash and pumpkin are part of the "Cucurbit" family, and they are "cousins" to zucchini and cucumbers. Even though squash is used as a vegetable on the menu, technically squash is the fruit of the plant.

If you have squash or pumpkins on vines in your garden, horticulture experts recommend you pick them before a hard freeze. Be sure to leave a few inches of the stem attached and allow them to "cure" a couple of weeks in a warm spot to toughen the skin and extend their storage life.

Squash can last many months if stored in a cool, dry place. If you happen to purchase cut squash, be sure to refrigerate it.

Squash can be prepared by cooking in water, baking or microwaving. To prepare squash in a conventional oven, simply rinse the squash thoroughly under cool water and scrub with a vegetable brush if needed. Poke several holes in the clean squash with a knife and place it in a pan. Bake without covering.

You can adjust the temperature and baking time depending on what else you might be baking. On average, a medium squash will take about an hour to bake at 350 F and would pair well with baked potatoes and meatloaf. If you are cooking something at 400 F, the squash will become tender sooner. When squash is fork-tender, you are ready to peel it, remove the seeds, mash and serve.

Although you might want to home-can some pumpkin, be aware that no safe canning guidelines for mashed pumpkin are available for home food preservers. However, you can freeze pumpkin. Visit and click on "Food Preservation," then "Freezing Vegetables," for advice on how to do it.

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