Saturday, August 17, 2013

Preserving Winter Squash

Winter squash like butternut, acorn, and turban are gorgeous vitamin-filled fruits that are adaptable to a variety of recipes and uses. The plants are easy to grow and will usually reward the gardener with a wheelbarrow full of beautiful gourds. Winter squash store for up to three months in a cool dark location. For longer storage they may be oiled or waxed to prevent small rot and mold spots from taking hold in any imperfection on the skin. The surface of the skin needs to be washed and completely dried before waxing or oiling. Each squash will need just a light coating of your preferred preservation formula.
If you have a need to store your squash longer, or if space is simply an issue, there are methods of preservation that can help. Most firm fleshed squash freezes quite well in cubes or you can puree it for easy use in recipes. The flesh of the squash needs to be pre-cooked before freezing, either by roasting, steaming or boiling. Scoop out the seeds before the cooking process. Peel off the skin once the squash is tender and then either cube it, mash it or puree for convenience. Allow the squash to cool before you put it into freezer safe plastic bags or containers. It is a good idea to measure, date and label the containers. Frozen squash will last up to 6 months.

Another way to preserve squash is by dehydrating it. Dried squash pieces are wonderful for soups and stews but do not work as well for baked goods. You may either use a food dehydrator or your oven. Seed and cut the squash into slim 1/4 inch slices. You will want to remove the peel which you can either do initially or after the blanching process. Blanch the squash for 3 minutes in a pot large enough for the squash to contact boiling water evenly. Drain the squash and pat it dry. Layer it in dehydrator pans or on a baking sheet or broiling pan. For oven drying turn the heat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit to pre-heat and then turn it down to 125 and put the baking sheets into the oven. Dry them until the squash are stiff and then pack the slices after cooling into bags or containers. Use parchment or wax paper between layers. Make sure the squash is completely dry or freeze the slices to prevent molding if you prefer less brittle pieces.

Canning is a time honored tradition in families around the world for the preservation of bumper crops. Pureed squash and pumpkin should not be canned in the home as the average domestic canning operation cannot get the center hot enough to kill off botulism toxins. You can safely can chunks or cubes of your squash. The starting process is similar to other preservation methods. Peel, seed and cube the squash and then boil lightly for 2 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with the cooked squash, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per quart and then the remaining space with the cooking liquid.

Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar for expansion after the jars are sealed. Pressure canning is the safest method for squash and should be set at 12 pounds. Place the seals and screw lids on lightly and then immerse the cans in a deep pot filled with water that nearly covers the seals. Cover the pot and cook for 55 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quarts. Test the seals once the jars have been removed and allowed to cool. Date and label your jars for ease of use and safety.

Don't forget the seeds! Almost all squash have lovely edible seeds once roasted which add delicate crunch and texture to salads, casseroles, or just as a healthy snack. Separate any meat and pulp from the seeds and then toss them with melted butter or olive oil and salt or any other seasoning. You only need enough lubrication to lightly coat but not soak the seeds. Spread the seeds out evenly on a baking pan and cook at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes. Allow the seeds to cool and then place them in sealed bags. Try some fun seasoning mixes like Tex-Mex, Italian or Cajun. Squash seeds are healthy and loaded with protein, iron and magnesium.

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