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Add Locally-Grown Winter Squash to Your Meals

by Lisa Diggs

If they’re grown in the summer and sold in the fall, why are so many fruits (yes, they are fruits not veggies) considered to be winter squash? Pumpkins, buttercup, butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash are all part of this family, which is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, meaning the seeds have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. At this stage, most varieties of this fruit can be stored for use during the winter, making it an aptly named category after all.

At this time of year locally-grown winter squash becomes readily available in farmers markets and stores, with good reason. In a single year, Michigan farmers generate nearly $10 million from the production of over seventy million pounds of pumpkins, and produce over 140 million pounds of squash. Here are six of the most common examples.
 
Acorn Squash
Also called pepper squash, it has distinctive longitudinal ridges and sweet, yellow-orange flesh. The most common variety is dark green in color, often with a single splotch of orange on the side or top
 
Nutrition: It is a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Folate and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin C, Thiamin, Potassium and Manganese.
 
Uses: Acorn squash is most commonly baked, but can also be microwaved, sautéed or steamed. It may be stuffed with rice, meat or vegetable mixtures. The seeds may also be eaten, usually after being toasted. Here’s one option for a scrumptious stuffed acorn squash.
 
Buttercup Squash
Also known as Kobocha, this fruit has a turban shape (a flattish top and dark green skin). It typically weighs three to five pounds, with dense, yellow-orange flesh.
 
Nutrition: It is a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.
 
Uses: It can be roasted, baked, and mashed into soups, among a variety of filler uses, much like pumpkin. It is extremely popular, especially as a soup. Try this soup recipe.
 
Butternut Squash
This variety has yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp. When ripe, it turns increasingly deep orange, and becomes sweeter and richer.
Nutrition: It is a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.
 
Uses: Often substituted for pumpkin, butternut squash is a fruit that can be roasted, toasted, puréed for soups, or mashed and used in casseroles, breads, and muffins. Try this tantalizing muffin mixture.
 
Hubbard Squash
This unusual-looking squash has a tear-drop shape, commonly with bluish-grey or green skin, though it can also be golden.
Nutrition: It is a good source of Thiamin, Vitamin B6 and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.
 
Uses: Prepare it simply by roasting it and topping it with butter and brown sugar. It can also be outstanding when used in soups, stews or you can even try it in a pie.
 
Pumpkins
Sizes vary dramatically, but most pumpkins are round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and typically have deep yellow to orange coloration. White versions are now becoming increasingly popular as well.
Nutrition: It is a good source of Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.
 
Uses: While most commonly thought of for Halloween décor, pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted, and makes a great soup. Pureed it makes an excellent ingredient for a winter smoothie. Of course, pumpkin pie is a seasonal favorite. Try your hand at roasting your own pumpkin seeds.
 
Spaghetti Squash
The outside may look nothing like its name, but the inside is another story. This is an oblong seed-bearing variety of winter squash. Its flesh is bright yellow or orange.
Nutrition: It is a good source of Vitamin C, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid and Manganese.
 
Uses: Spaghetti squash can be baked, boiled, steamed, and/or microwaved. When raw, the flesh is solid and similar to other raw squash; when cooked, the flesh falls away from the fruit in ribbons or strands like spaghetti, hence the name. It can be served with or without sauce, as a substitute for pasta. The seeds can also be roasted, similar to pumpkin seeds. Substitute this dish instead of carb-heavy pasta.
 
Store winter squash in a cool (45 to 50 degree) dry place, and do not wash squash them before storing. Stored properly, most varieties will keep for several months. 

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