Extension Report: The Great Pumpkin: Keeping squash safe through the winter

By LAUREN M. KRAEMER

The last of the mushy and collapsing Halloween pumpkins were hauled off to the compost pile this weekend to avoid frozen goopy pumpkin puree ending up all over the porch. If I had gotten to them a little sooner, they would have made great additions to fall and winter dishes and desserts as pumpkin chunks, puree, and in the form of their delicious baked seeds.

Luckily, winter squashes will be available at the grocery stores and a few of the local farm stands for the next several months — so my lack of attention to the porch pumpkins won’t leave me riddled with guilt all season — there are many chances for redemption!

With that in mind, I thought I would dedicate this installment of the Extension Cord to the storage of winter squash and how to preserve it safely for longer-term storage (i.e. freezing, canning or dehydrating). I know many of you have questions about this because I have been receiving your phone calls and email queries asking about what to do with them.

Canning:

First things first: You can can pumpkin. But it is a VERY particular process and the pumpkin CANNOT be pureed. It must be cubed and must be pressure-canned. The processing time and pressure will depend on your altitude so make sure you know the elevation of your kitchen. If you aren’t sure, use this website to find out: http://veloroutes.org/elevation/

To safely can winter squash or pumpkin follow these instructions:

Wash, remove seeds, cut into slices, peel. Cut into 1‐inch cubes.

Caution: Safe processing times have not been determined for mashed or pureed squash.

Boil 2 minutes in water. Fill jars with hot cubes and cooking liquid. Leave 1‐inch head space.

Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, adjust lids and process in a pressure canner.

Squash and pumpkin must be processed in a pressure canner at 240 degrees F (10 pounds pressure with a weighted gauge; 11 pounds with a dial gauge).

Process at 240 degrees F: pints 55 minutes; quarts 90 minutes.

After processing, remove canner from heat and wait until pressure returns to zero. Remove weight or slowly open petcock. Wait 10 minutes. Unfasten canner lid and remove it carefully.

For an added margin of safety, boil all home‐canned vegetables for at least 10 minutes before tasting.

Freezing

Wash, cut into cooking‐size sections and remove seeds. Cook until soft (in boiling water, steam, in a pressure cooker or bake in oven or microwave). Remove pulp from rind and mash. Cool by placing pan with pureed squash in cold water and stirring occasionally.

Package in freezer bags or containers, removing as much air as possible. Seal, label with date and contents, and freeze. When you are ready to use later, defrost in the refrigerator or warm quickly in the microwave and add to dishes or serve lightly seasoned with cinnamon. For spaghetti squash, cook, but do not mash the pulp.

Drying

(Works best with pumpkin and Hubbard squash)

Wash, cut in half and remove seeds and cavity pulp. Peel thin outer skin. Cut into ¼ inch strips.

Steam for 2‐3 minutes or until almost tender. Dry at 140 degrees F for 2‐3 hours, reduce temperature to 130 degrees F and continue drying until tough and brittle.

Store pumpkin in a cool, dry place. Pumpkin stored longer than 1‐2 months at room temperature can develop an undesirable flavor.

Dried pumpkin can be rehydrated and pureed in a blender or food processor and used in pumpkin pie or as a vegetable side dish.

Drying roasted seeds

Wash the seeds carefully to remove the clinging fiber. Dry the seeds in a dehydrator at 115‐120 degrees F until crisp or in the oven at 150 degrees F for 1‐2 hours, stirring frequently.

To roast: Mix thoroughly 2 cups dry seeds, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1½ tablespoons melted butter and 1 teaspoon salt. Place in a shallow baking pan and roast (1 hour at 250 degrees F; 30 minutes at 275 degrees F; or 10‐15 minutes at 300 degrees F). Be sure to stir the seeds frequently as they roast.

Place the cooled seeds in a plastic bag and store. For long-term storage, keep in the refrigerator or freezer. The seeds will become rancid if stored at room temperature for long periods of time.

Storing fresh pumpkin

Mature squash and pumpkin in good condition can be stored for several months at temperatures of 50‐55 degrees F in a 50‐70 percent relative humidity.

Note: Pumpkins and squash deteriorate rapidly if stored below 50 degrees F. Squash/pumpkins that have been exposed to freezing conditions before harvest do not keep well. Do not store pumpkin or squash near apples and pears. These fruits give off ethylene gas as they ripen which causes yellowing of the squash and shortens the storage life.

Health experts of all stripes recommend that we eat more bright orange and dark green vegetables. Luckily those foods are in season for the foreseeable future as we head into winter and will cost less at the grocery store!

Bright orange veggies like winter squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots are very nutrient dense and boast loads of vitamin A and potassium. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, swiss chard and collards are packed with vitamins A, C and iron. All these vitamins and minerals help ward off colds and infections which are more common during the winter.

Stay healthy this winter — stock up on squash at the grocery store and keep these storage tips and long term storage options in mind! Once you’ve got a nice collection of squash in the pantry or the freezer, check out the following delicious pumpkin recipes on OSU’s www.foodhero.org website:

Pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells

Pumpkin pudding

Pumpkin smoothie

Pumpkin nut bread

Enjoy!

If you have questions about storing winter squash or anything else, feel free to call the extension office. We’re here and happy to help!

n

Lauren Kraemer, MPH, serves on the Extension Family and Community Health Faculty of Oregon State University/Wasco and Hood River County Extension.

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