Curing Pumpkins and Winter Squash

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Pumpkins ready for harvest

The final transition into autumn is a special time of year, with trees taking on their colourful hues, temperatures developing a refreshing crispness and the vegetable garden giving one last flourish of productivity before it goes quiet over winter. For me, the undoubted highlight of all this is when the large umbrella-like leaves of pumpkins and winter squash finally die back to reveal the plump fruits beneath. It’s the moment you realise all that growth over the summer months has finally come to fruition.

Some years back I had the fortune to spend a year in America’s Pacific Northwest. The climax of the growing season was a sudden rush of sweet, golden-yellow corn cobs, quickly followed by large, majestic pumpkins transformed into all manner of sweet and savoury treats. My personal favourite was pumpkin pie and if you haven’t tried Barbara’s recipe you’re missing a winner!

Pumpkins and winter squashes capture the flavour and excitement of autumn but if you want to be able to enjoy this weighty bonanza for longer than a few weeks you will need to cure your home-grown fruits. Curing simply involves the hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least three months and as long as six, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.

Ripe and Ready Pumpkins and Winter Squash

So how do you know when your pumpkins and winter squashes are ready to be cured? Well, aside from acquiring their mature colour, ripe fruits offer several other clues that the time has come to remove them from the dying plant. The most obvious cue is to look at the stem; if it has died off and turned hard you know that the fruits are ready. Other ways of telling that the moment of truth has arrived is to slap the fruit (it should sound hollow) and to push your thumbnail into the skin, which should dent but not puncture. The youthful sheen of the fruits will have also given way to a duller tone.

Pumpkin stalk left on to aid curing and storage

Cut your home-grown beauties free complete with 10cm (4in) of stem to ensure a failsafe seal at the top of the fruit. If heavy frosts threaten (a light frost won’t damage fruits) you will need to bring in all of your fruits, even if they are not quite ready. If you find yourself in this predicament don’t worry – just leave a bit more stem, including a 10cm (4in) section of main stem to leave a T-shaped handle. The additional stem will allow the fruit to form a proper seal between the stalk and the top of the fruit all in good time.

Handle your pumpkins and squashes very carefully. Do not be tempted to handle them by the delicate stem, but rather cup your fruits in the palms of your hands – damage at this stage could spell trouble later. The object of the game is to retain a perfectly intact outer skin that remains impervious to outside moulds and fungal spores.

The Cure

Curing your fruits is a simple enough process but it does take more than a few days. Some of your fruits may be whoppers, so laying down this amount of food for the winter is time well spent. Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find having first brushed off any dirt. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan! This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then once (carefully!) flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom. You can, of course, continue to enjoy some of the fruits fresh while you wait.

Winter squashes

This somewhat long-winded process has a valuable purpose behind it. As the skins harden up further they create a longer-lasting seal, while the colour of the fruits enriches as they sweeten up and take on a more intense flavour. Once the fruits are cured they can be given one final treatment before they take to the storage shed; a polish of olive oil applied with a cloth to create a moisture-tight finish completes the job.

How to Store your Winter Squash and Pumpkins

Like many fruits and root vegetables stored for the colder months, pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. But this is where the similarity ends as these thick-skinned customers will happily keep at up to room temperature (20°C/68°F). This means you’ve a choice between keeping them in an out-of-the-way outbuilding or shed (provided it’s frost free), or lined up like plump sentries in a spare room in the house.

Curing a pumpkin in a greenhouse

Either way, keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh cushioned with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection. If you’ve lots of pumpkins or squashes to store don’t be tempted to stack them up – this will generate pressure points and will reduce airflow around the fruits. Store them in a single layer and keep them well clear of other stored tree fruits, which can emit ethylene gas and speed the aging process.

House-stored fruits won’t be easy to ignore but those stored in a shed or garage will need to be checked regularly. Look out for signs of vermin and treat accordingly. Any fruits that look like they’re turning should be used immediately.

Needless to say a store of your own pumpkins or squashes is a very valuable thing. By the end of winter those fruits that are still sound will have concentrated their flavour to taste bud-tantalising proportions. With such an irresistible prospect its worth exercising some restraint and laying down a few fruits for enjoying later on. Every last morsel of sweet, delicious flesh will be worth it!

By Benedict Vanheems.

Image credits: Pumpkin stalk - clkohan, Selection of winter squashes - L'eau Bleue

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Comments

 
"Are store bought pumpkins and winter squash cured?"
Debbie on Friday 19 October 2012
"Thank you for this timely, useful article. i am enjoying all the articles you now post. How should I best store red sweet potatoes I have grown (and just dug after a light frost)? Many thanks."
PPBrownlee on Friday 19 October 2012
"Hi Debbie. I'm afraid I am not sure if store-bought pumpkins and winter squash are cured. I imagine that if they are, probably not as thoroughly as if you cured your own fruits, as they would expect to sell them on fairly speedily in the expectation that they would be eaten right away. That said, I recently tucked into a store-bought butternut squash that had been kept in a cupboard for a month - it tasted fine with no signs of deterioration."
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 23 October 2012
"Hi PPBrownlee. Sweet potatoes do not keep as long as standard potatoes, so they are unlikely to last more than a month in storage. At room temperature they will only last about one to two weeks, so store them in a cool dry place such as a cellar. Only store clean, dry and unblemished tubers. Refridgeration can affect their taste, so why not slice your sweet potatoes up, cook them then freeze them in a sealed container to enjoy them for longer?"
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 23 October 2012
"You might be interested to know that I started gardening bio-dynamically about 5 years ago and since doing so, my squash store for over a year. I will be bringing in my 2012 harvet of squash tomorrow but still have 6 left (various types) from the 2011 glut! It's worth a try. My apples, potatoes and fresh tomatoes now store for far longer than previously (we ate our last fresh tomatoes that were picked at the end of 2011 in June 2012)."
Jessica on Sunday 28 October 2012
"Wow - a whole year! I'm sure that has to be some sort of record for storing squash."
Benedict Vanheems on Sunday 28 October 2012
"I've learn some good stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how a lot attempt you set to make such a wonderful informative site."
Clem on Saturday 7 September 2013
"If a hubbard squash is not ready to pick(Because of unexpected frosty weather) will it continue to ripen if I pick and store it? Thank you for this nice site."
Sandra Kassa on Wednesday 16 October 2013
"Hi Sandra. If it's already frosty where you are then it's time to bring your squashes inside. They will continue to cure. If your fruits are very small and under-ripe then I'm afraid the chances are they won't progress any further at this stage, so ensure an earlier start to the whole growing process next year."
Benedict Vanheems on Thursday 17 October 2013
"Thank you for this great, informative article! I grew 11 Heirloom Boston Marrow Squash this season, they ranged from 10 pounds to over 30! I knew some of these facts but not all. Thank you and happy growing :) "
VermontRae on Friday 23 September 2016
"Wow! Sounds like your squashes did really well this season. Hope you have a successful year next season too!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 26 September 2016
"My onion squash is rioe but it fell off the vine as it was to heavy. Will this be ok to cure and store? What should I do with it"
Rosie on Saturday 26 August 2017
"Sorry, meant to say the stalk is no longer on the squash"
Rosie on Saturday 26 August 2017
"Hi Rosie. If it has already coloured up then you're probably okay going ahead and curing it. I would, however, be inclined to use this one first out of all of your squashes."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 29 August 2017
"Great, thank you Ben. I will do"
Rosie on Tuesday 29 August 2017
"I agree about the need for space to grow - I went a bit mad this year with winter squash and my allotment is now like a jungle! I have 1 Crown Prince which from one plant has at least 6 very nice fruit but I will rush out today and put some cardboard under the fruit; Hunter which is a butternut but the fruit are all dark green - thought they would be light brown; then a Marina di Chioggia - lots of growth but only one - albeit very nice - fruit so she is not worth the amount of space. I also have Honeynut squash which have plenty of foliage with lots of small fruit the size of figs and a few much bigger - they are in the front garden which is a lot colder and exposed compared to my allotment so I am not expecting them to do so well. Last year I grew Kuri and had nice crop but they did not store well altho I did have them on a sunny window sill but not raised up so guess that was the cause. Will make sure I raise them up this year. I have a question - should I stop the plants now? They seem to go on making new growth but at this time of the year I want the fruits to swell."
Liz on Thursday 31 August 2017
"Hi Liz. Yes, if temperatures are beginning to drop a lot where you are, you may be best stopping the plants so that all of their energy goes into maturing the fruits that have already set."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 31 August 2017

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