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A Merry Gardener

Horticulture for daily living
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Beloved Butternut


As nights grow colder and frost begins to make its sparkling appearance on lawns and cars, gardeners turn to the warm and spicy flavors of fall to keep the chill at bay. Many fall-harvested crops seem to have been made to perfectly harmonize with the characteristic holiday spices. One of my favorite fruits of the season is the butternut squash. This winter squash, from the same plant family as pumpkins and zucchini, is a gem among the autumn cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.

Over the past two summers, I have enjoyed growing butternut squash in my garden. Similar to other cucurbit crops, butternut squash performs best when planted directly from seed in prepared soil hills. If you have ever grown gourds, squash, or pumpkins, you will recognize the sprawling, viney growth habit…and the prolific fruit production. Harvest maturity is reached in the fall when the vines begin to die back. Unlike summer squash, which are harvested while the skin is still tender, butternut squash are harvested when the rind has hardened and developed a pale peach color. This hard outer shell allows butternut squash to be stored for several months without spoilage. To achieve the longest shelf-life, cure the squash after harvesting by keeping at room temperature for ten to fourteen days in a place with good circulation. This helps to lower the amount of moisture retained in the squash to prevent rot. After the curing period, store the butternut squash in a cool, dry spot, about 50°F.

Once you have brought in a bountiful harvest, the next exciting but potentially overwhelming stage is coming up with creative ways to use so many butternut squash. The good news is that butternut squash is a versatile vegetable that can be put to use in a number of ways. Roasting is probably the most popular cooking method, which lends itself to experimentation with a diversity of spice combinations and accompanying vegetables. Here are two examples:

Orange Veggie Medley

  • Butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots

This  grouping lends itself to sweet flavors such as honey and maple syrup with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Peel and cube the vegetables, coat in a mixture of vegetable oil and your desired seasonings, and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 25-30 minutes, until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.

Balsamic Brussels and Butternut Squash

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Pomegranate

If you are looking to branch out from the classic green bean casserole and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving side dishes, this is a great combination to try. Cut Brussel sprouts in half and cube the butternut squash. Coat with dressing (2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, black pepper to taste) and lay out on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven at 400°F for approximately 30 minutes, until vegetables are slightly browned. Place in a serving dish and top with pomegranate aryls.

For your picky eaters and vegetable-phobic family members, pureed butternut squash can be used just like pureed pumpkin in pies, breads, and other desserts. To make butternut squash puree, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds, lay the cut-sides down on a rimmed baking sheet and fill with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Roast at 400°F for 45-50 minutes, until the squash is tender. Scoop the flesh out of the shell and smash with a potato masher or puree in a food processor until smooth. Directly substitute in any of your favorite pumpkin recipes.


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