FARGO, N.D. - I remember peeking under the big, green leaves in the pumpkin and winter squash patch of our garden when I was young. Some of the trailing vines led into the wooded area next to our garden.
The bright orange pumpkins were easy to spot, but finding the green squash hidden in the foliage was like discovering a hidden prize. At the end of the season, I knew I needed to be careful not to break the stem close to the squash when I cut them from the vine. Even though it was tempting, I wasn't supposed to use the stem as a carrying handle, either.
In fact, most horticulture references recommend that you leave 1 inch of stem on squash and about 3 inches on pumpkins. Breaking the stem close to pumpkins and squash can decrease storage life.
I must have liked squash even as a kid, because I didn't deliberately break a stem to shorten the time it would appear on our dinner menu. Our squash lasted well into the winter in our cool basement. Winter squash typically can be stored for three to six months at 50 degrees.
I still enjoy colorful winter squash as a side dish. Not only is squash fairly low in calories at about 60 calories per half cup, but the varieties with dark orange flesh also are excellent sources of carotenoids, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.
We have many types of winter squash available to try. How many varieties can you name? Try this short quiz. If you aren't feeling savvy about squash varieties, check out the big hint at the end of each clue.
1. This bell-shaped squash is about a foot long and weighs a couple of pounds. Its skin is easy to peel and its flesh is golden orange. A half-cup serving has 230 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A. Hint: Its name might remind you of a common spread for bread. Its name also suggests this squash variety is in the same family as a peanut or walnut.
2. This small squash has a name that describes its shape. On average, it weighs 1 to 2 pounds. Hint: A squirrel might be amazed by the size and shape of this squash.
3. This is oval-shaped squash is yellow. It weighs up to 3 pounds and is about 9 inches long. It forms strands when cooked. Hint: You might think you are eating pasta, but this edible gourd counts as a vegetable.
4. This squash variety is known for its mealy texture and orange flesh. It's fairly round and stocky. The flavor may remind you of eating a sweet potato. Although it tends to be a bit dry when baked, you can enhance the moistness by steaming it. Hint: Part of its name will remind you of a common spread for bread. The other part of the name is a kitchen measuring tool.
5. This type of squash can grow to 50 pounds, although it also is available in 5-pound sizes. It ranges from dark green to orange. One-half cup of this type of squash provides 140 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A. Hint: There's a nursery rhyme about an "old mother" of the same name.
How did you do? The answers are 1. Butternut; 2. Acorn; 3. Spaghetti; 4. Buttercup; and 5. Hubbard.
Squash is a nutrient-rich, fiber-rich food, and it helps you meet the current goal to add more dark orange and gold vegetables and fruits to our diet.
When you are choosing a squash, avoid the ones with blemishes or cuts in the rind because they will spoil faster. Although you can bake the entire squash as a whole and scoop out the seeds later, some people prefer to cut and peel the squash to hasten cooking.
Be careful when cutting a squash because the rind and flesh are tough prior to cooking. Position the squash on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Use a chef's knife or cleaver to split the squash in half. You may need to hit the knife with a mallet. Then simply cook in water, steam, microwave or bake until softened.
You can freeze cooked, mashed squash in recipe-sized amounts in freezer bags or freezer containers. While canning pumpkin or squash cubes is considered safe when the proper processing procedure is followed, canning mashed pumpkin or squash is not recommended because of safety issues. You can learn more about canning and freezing food at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and checking out the food preservation publications.
You might like mashed squash with a bit of butter and brown sugar as a side dish. You can substitute squash in pumpkin pies or try squash in a less traditional way, such as in pancakes.
This week's recipe was adapted from a recipe from a website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at