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Winter Squash and Pumpkin: Part of the Gourd Family

Winter Squash and Pumpkin: Part of the Gourd Family

With Halloween around the corner, it’s time for pumpkins and winter varieties of squash. Both the pumpkin and the squash are members of the gourd family or the Cucurbitaceae family.

While we often hear a lot about cooking with winter squash and pumpkins; this isn’t true of gourds. Gourds are not usually used in cooking or for eating. However, dried gourds are often used for crafting; their hard, durable shells make them great to use as decorations, ornaments, storage containers, or bowls.

Unlike gourds, winter or “hard-shelled” squash, are often used for cooking. They have hard, thick skins and seeds, and are an excellent source of iron and vitamins A and C. Winter squash may be stored for winter consumption, hence the name.

When ripe, winter squash is most commonly used as a table vegetable or in pies. This is because its flesh is usually fine-grained with a mild flavor, and is good for baking. Winter squash varieties range in color from orange to deep yellow and are firmer than summer varieties, which means they have to be cooked longer.

Popular varieties include:

  • Acorn squash – (fibrous texture, golden color and sweet taste)
  • Butternut squash – (dark golden flesh, creamy texture, and sweet, nutty flavor)
  • Hubbard squash – (sweet flavor, grainy texture and golden flesh)
  • Spaghetti squash – (separates into strands just like pasta)

Once the seeds are removed, winter squash can be baked, steamed or simmered. Butternut squash is great roasted and pureed for soups, and spaghetti squash is great baked and served like pasta.

When looking for winter squash, choose those that are heavy for their size and have a hard, deep-colored rind and unbroken skin. The hard skin of the squash allows for longer storage so refrigeration is not required. Simply keep the squash in a cool, dark place.

Unlike squash, pumpkins are not usually served as a baked vegetable because its flesh is somewhat coarse and/or strongly flavored. As we all know, they are used mainly as pie filling and as jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. However, its seeds are a tasty autumn treat, and once roasted, are nutty.

To roast pumpkin seeds, scoop out the seeds, rinse them under water and remove all fibers. Blot the seeds with paper towels, then spread them out to dry for at least 3 hours. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and place in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt or grated Parmesan cheese.

Looking for that perfect pumpkin? Select a pumpkin that is ripe has no bruises, cuts or nicks. You can store whole pumpkins at room temperature for up to a month or refrigerate up to three months.

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Judi Gerber

Judi Gerber is a University of California Master Gardener with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She writes about sustainable farming, local foods, and organic gardening for multiple magazines. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.


+ add your own
1:51PM PDT on Mar 19, 2013


4:28PM PDT on Mar 17, 2013

I had no idea that spaghetti squash was considered a winter squash. Now I know.

9:24PM PST on Nov 21, 2012

Thank you :)

3:21AM PST on Nov 21, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

10:48AM PST on Nov 18, 2012

good to know

8:58PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

Farms nearby have colourful displays in wooden wagons and one is always happy to drive by and purchase many of these delightful veggies.

11:49AM PST on Nov 14, 2011

Thanks for the information.

9:11AM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

Thank you

9:10AM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

Thank you

12:36AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Excellent article. Love the recipes. Thanks for sharing.

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