Smashing pumpkins: how to cure and store squash for winter | Gardening advice

I crawl through my pumpkin patch, peek under leaves to see the swelling, ripening fruit, and count my premium for the months to come. But now the frost is approaching, these need to be moved indoors for curing and storage (you can also cure winter squash from a farmers market). That way, you can pick them ripe or buy them and eat them over the winter.

A properly cured pumpkin will knock the block off anything you’ve tried at the grocery store. All that is required for curing is to store the fruit in the right place. But winter squash are a diverse gang and will need different treatments if they are to survive the next year.

Kabocha. Photo: Shutterstock

First the basics. A ripe fruit has a hardened skin that may have cracked surfaces and has taken on a uniform color. It will sound hollow when you pat it, and when you rub the skin the sheen will come off. Only ripe fruits can be stored well. If you can dig your thumbnail in easily, the pumpkin will be underripe and won’t last the winter. The skin will still be a little hard when stored, but not enough in the long run, so eat these soft-skinned ones first.

Red Kuri Pumpkin.Red Kuri Pumpkin. Photo: Alamy

How you choose your pumpkin is also important. Leave the stem on as long as possible as damage to this part will begin to rot. Use a small stem to cut the fruit from the plant on either side of the stem. If the stem naturally falls off during storage, that’s not a problem, but between harvest and storage you want it to really stay intact.

Bruising also leads to rot. Once the skins are hardened, pumpkins are pretty tough, but until that moment you treat them like kittens. Varieties of Cucurbita pepo – such as spaghetti squash, summer crooknecks, acorns, scallops, delicata species, and Halloween pumpkins – ripen earlier than other varieties. These are in their prime at harvest time, so prioritize eating these first.

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Winter squash of the species Cucurbita maxima (hubbards, bananas, buttercups, kuris) or Cucurbita moschata (butternuts, turbans, kabochas) ripen later and have to ripen for a month to ensure good nutrition and storage. Once hardened, they can be stored for between four and six months.

In order for a pumpkin to be properly cured, it must spend 10-14 days at 26-29 ° C, ideally in a sunny location. The longer they harden, the sweeter they become, as the starch is converted into sugar in the relative heat. But finding 26C heat is not that easy. I choose our living room, in as much light as possible. I turn the fruit in half so that it hardens evenly.

After that, the fruits must be stored in a well-ventilated place that does not fall below 7 ° C and does not rise too much above 15 ° C. Sheds and garages are likely not suitable as they get too cold at night. I store my winter squash on a slate floor in the hallway, where I can watch for spoilage. You’d be surprised how a bad apple really rots the barrel.

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