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Winter squash varieties taste delicious, are easy to store and prepare, and offer numerous health benefits that may help reduce the risk of many diseases. For those who love the taste and texture of summer squash, fall squash varieties are now available. The nutrients and health benefits that these vegetables provide far outweigh their summer cousins.

Squash varieties harvested in the fall are known as winter squash. Winter squash tend to include darker varieties such as pumpkin, spaghetti squash, acorn squash and butternut squash. Each type exhibits differences in shape, color, size and flavor, but all have shells that are hard and more challenging to cut and/or peel. This allows winter squash to have a longer storage life. Winter squash is brilliantly colored, quite easy to prepare and most can be used interchangeably in recipes.

There are several varieties of winter squash available at our farmers markets and supermarkets.

Acorn squash is small, dark green and acorn-shaped with deep ridges and a moist yellow or orange interior that is loaded with fiber. When halved for roasting, acorn squash can be used as a natural bowl for fillings such as apples, currants and chestnuts.

It is great for roasting, however, peeling is difficult, so cut it in half or slice.

Butternut squash is one of the most common winter squash. This foot-long, bell-shaped variety has thin, butterscotch colored skin, making it easier to peel than many other squash varieties. It cooks quickly and is dense and creamy, making it excellent for pies, or pair it with a variety of flavors, including smoky bacon, cinnamon and balsamic vinegar. It also has the highest doses of vitamins A and C of all winter squash.

Hubbard squash is large and football-shaped. It has hard, thick, lumpy skin and typically weighs 8 to 20 pounds. The deep orange flesh has a smooth texture, rich flavor, and is very high in vitamin A. The flesh is high in sugar but is sometimes mealy, which means it is best puréed as a pie filling, or mashed. A whole squash will keep for up to 6 months in a cool, dry place

The oval, yellow spaghetti squash contains a surprise—a stringy flesh that, when cooked, separates into mild-tasting, spaghetti-like strands. Exceedingly mild, spaghetti squash is often dressed with tomato sauce like pasta, or it can be simply enhanced with butter and herbs. Spaghetti squash typically weighs 4 to 8 pounds. Squash that is on the larger side will have the best flavor and also makes thicker "noodles."

When choosing squash, it should be heavy for its size and the rinds should feel thick and hard with no soft spots. Avoid tender skin, which indicates that it was picked too soon. If it is lightweight, this indicates that the insides have begun to dry. Rinds should be dull, not shiny.

The rind of winter squash should be cleaned by scrubbing under cool running water before cooking or cutting. Do not use soap or dish detergents.

Do not wash winter squash before storing. Store whole squash in a cool, dry place. If stored properly, whole winter squash can last up to 3 months. Cut squash should be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

Although nutritional content of winter squash varies, these low calorie winter vegetables provide numerous health benefits that may help reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart and respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis. They contain high levels of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which converts to Vitamin A, are a good source of Vitamin C and potassium, and are a healthy source of fiber.

In addition to using winter squash as decorations, try making Apple and Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash. You might be surprised at the combination. For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

 

Apple and Cheese Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, halved and seeded

2 teaspoons butter or margarine

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped Granny Smith apple

1/4 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the squash onto a baking dish, filled with 1/2 inch of water, cut side down. Bake for 40 minutes. Drain off any water remaining on the baking sheet. Melt butter or margarine in a medium skillet over medium heat and sauté onion and apple until the onion is translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Move to bowl to cool until the squash has finished baking. Add the dried cranberries or raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon and Cheddar cheese into the apple mixture. Turn the squash cut side up on the baking sheet and fill with the apple mixture. Return the filled squash to the oven; bake 10-15 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair, with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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