Preserving and cooking winter squash

Winter squash, as the name implies, is harvested in the late fall or winter (depending on where you live).  Its thick skin hardens as it cures, providing a protective casing for the flesh inside.  You can store it for many months in a cold room or similar environment.  Leave the stems on the fruits to keep them from drying out.  Place each squash on a few sheets of newspaper or a piece cardboard, ensuring that it doesn’t touch its neighbour.

 

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They’re not touching, honest!

If frost or winter necessitates picking a squash before it is fully ripe, it may ripen in storage so long as the ripening process started before you picked it.  A dark green, immature pumpkin, for example, may not ripen in storage. The spotted green squash on the above left is now, two months later, almost fully ripe.

Squashes can stay in cold storage for many months,  Check them periodically to ensure that they are not getting spongey or soft.  If this is the case, it is time to use them!

There are a few ways to cook winter squash, but here’s what I like to do:

  1. Cut the squash in half.
  2. Scoop out the seeds, but leave the stringy stuff inside.
  3. Place halves on a cookie sheet or baking dish, peel side down, so that they form two bowls.
  4. Bake at 350F until the flesh is soft.  The cooking time varies according to the type and size of squash.  Check it periodically, and if the halves fill up with fluid, drain that into the sink.

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    Pumpkin halves filled with juice
  5. Let the squash cool completely.
  6. Drain any liquid that has accumulated.
  7. Use a spoon to scoop away the stringy innards.
  8. Start at one of the cut edges, and remove the peel in strips.
  9. Puree the flesh using a food processor, blender, or potato masher.

Now for the best part: the seeds!

You can roast and eat the seeds from all varieties of winter squash, not just pumpkins!  Don’t forget to save a few seeds for next year, unless you planted more than one variety of winter squash–in which case cross-pollination may have occurred.

  1. Place the seeds in a colander, and run them under cold water to rinse the bits of fleshy pulp off them.
  2. Spread them evenly on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  3. Season with salt, or your favourite spices.
  4. Bake at 300F until the seeds begin to turn a light golden brown.
  5. Enjoy!

 

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Pumpkin + squash seeds = delicious

 

 

Curing and storing onions

It’s midsummer now, and the onions planted in spring have begun to flop over at the neck and lose their bright green colour, signalling that they’ve stopped growing.

If you planted onions that are suitable for storage, you’ll need to ensure that they’re suitably dry before storing them.  This process is called curing.

To cure and store onions

  1. Stop watering your onions once they flop over, and wait for a dry day to harvest them.
  2. Use a garden fork to lift them from the soil, or grasp the greens and gently pull them out.  You don’t want to bruise or damage any part of the onion, as this may lead to rot.
  3. Set them out in the sun for a day or two to dry the roots.  Choose a location that maximizes airflow.  For example, you could place them on a sheet of mesh over an umbrella clothesline, or drape them over a fence.
  4. Carefully remove any clods of dirt clinging to the bulbs or roots.
  5. Bring the onions inside to a warm, dry room in your house or garage.  Spread the onions out on newspaper, in a single layer, making sure they don’t touch each other.
  6. Check them every few days, and remove any rotting or damaged onions right away.
  7. Once the necks of the onions are completely dry, and contain no moisture, cut the roots off the bulb, and trim the stems to about an inch long.  The bulbs should now have a nice papery coating that will protect the moist layers within.  This curing process may take up to a month.
  8. Store onions in baskets, mesh bags, or cardboard boxes with holes in them.  Place them in a cool, dark place.

Enjoy!  Properly cured onions can be kept in storage for well over a year.

 

 

Trimming the grocery bill in winter

It’s February, and in Canada, most of the produce in the grocery store is imported from the United States or Mexico, or even further away. There are a few Canadian items, such as mushrooms and peppers from greenhouses, or cooking onions and potatoes that have been kept in controlled storage. Let’s face it, though, unless you live in the warmer parts of the country, your options for fresh produce are limited. Unless you are making something that requires fresh ingredients, though, you can use produce you’ve preserved, at a fraction of the price, and without the harmful chemical additives.
  • Want a smoothie or some fruit salad? Berries can be frozen as is. Fruits like peaches and pears are delicious when canned.
  • How about some vegetables for a stir fry, sauce, or side dish? Peas, beans, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, and corn (and more) are usually blanched before they are frozen. Peppers are frozen as is. Blanching is the process by which the vegetables are immersed in boiling water for a few minutes, then immersed in ice water. This removes organisms and dirt, and stops enzyme actions which may cause the flavor, color, and texture to be diminished. It also slows down the loss of vitamins that occurs when plant matter is frozen.
  • How about some mashed potatoes or fried onions? Maybe some squash or pumpkin pie? Potatoes, onions, squash, garlic, and pumpkins can be kept in a cool, dark, dry room for many months. When your potatoes start to sprout, you can save them and use them for seed potatoes.
  • Have a hankering for pickles, or need some tomato sauce for your favourite pasta dish? Pretty much anything can be canned, either with a conventional canner or a pressure canner.
  • How about some chili or refried beans? Dry beans and store them in a dry place. When you want to use them, soak them in water overnight, then cook them in new water the next day until they are soft.
  • Tired of store-bought herbs? Some herbs, such as rosemary and parsley, can be overwintered in pots. You can preserve others by chopping them and mixing them with water or oil before freezing them in ice cube trays: http://www.thekitchn.com/freeze-her…).
These are just some of the common ways you can preserve food. We’ll look into these in more detail as the year progresses.