What you need to know about properly curing and storing squash for the winter

Squash is a hearty fall and winter vegetable, and it can be used in a wide range of dishes. If you’ve had a large, late-season harvest it can be difficult to eat it all before it spoils. There is a way to help your seasonal squash last longer, and it doesn’t require special equipment or a lot of effort. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s a real, easy, and effective process. All you have to do is cure your squash. Not sure how it works or how to get started? You’re in the right place because we have all the answers you’re looking for.

How and when should you harvest squash?

Harvest times vary depending on the variety of squash you’re growing, when they were planted, and what climate you live in, but your squash should be ready for harvest during fall. September and October are the most typical harvest months for squash. Any winter squash you plan on storing should be harvested before the first frosts of the year, as frost-damaged vegetables don’t keep well.

Mature squash will have the coloring associated with the type of squash you’re growing. Look for any spots that are uncharacteristically pale or green. The skin should also be hard enough that a gentle thump or flick shouldn’t leave a mark, although a harder pressure may still leave a bruise.

Harvest your squash with a sharp knife or pair of garden shears. Clip the mature fruit off the vine, leaving a few inches of stem attached to the squash. Cutting the stem too short can lead to accidental plant damage, resulting in a shorter shelf life.

A variety of squash types set on a black table

How should you best store uncured squash?

Not all squash is right for curing, but you can still extend their shelf life by a few months just by storing them correctly. The first step is to recognize when squash is not ideal for curing. Inspect your squash carefully after harvesting them, and set to the side any squash that’s damaged, not fully ripe, or has a thin, soft peel. Smaller, more delicate squash like acorn and delicata squash can be cured but develop textural issues that make them less appealing to eat.

Store these squash in a dark, cool room. A drier room is better, especially for squash that will be stored for longer periods. Avoid washing your squash until you’re ready to eat them so that they aren’t going into storage with damp skin. Washing squash with softer skin can also result in minor abrasions, which can cause them to spoil faster. Squash stored this way, without being cured, can last three to four months. Damaged squash should be eaten first, as they tend to last only a month or two.

Pumpkins sitting in the sun

How to cure squash

Curing is a form of preserving things by partially drying them. For squash, this means drying and hardening the outside while leaving the interior moist and delicious. The first step to curing your squash is gently cleaning the peel with a dry, soft cloth, paper towel, or clean sponge. Take a moment to inspect your squash thoroughly for any damage.

Next, set your squash in a warm, sunny location. This can be done inside or outside, but keep an eye on the weather if you decide to cure your squash outside. Make sure they’re in full sun or as close to full sun as possible. Curing is most effective when the temperature is still warm, with low humidity and decent airflow. However, this can be difficult to achieve during fall and winter, so you may see better results curing squash indoors.

Set your squash in the location you picked, taking care not to overlap them or set one in the shadow of another. Rotate your squash occasionally so that every side spends time in the sun. Curing typically takes five to ten days, with smaller squash curing faster and larger squash taking a little longer.

A butternut squash and a pumpkin sitting in the sun

How do you know it’s done, and how long will it keep?

Squash that’s properly cured will have a harder peel than uncured squash. You can use the fingernail test to judge the hardness. Gently but firmly press the edge of your fingernail into the peel. An uncured squash will bruise, while a cured one will not. Try the fingernail test before you begin curing, and test it again once you think the curing is complete. There should be a noticeable difference in the peel texture. A properly cured squash can last for five or six months and can be stored in any dry, cool place.

By curing your squash, you can have fresh, delicious squash throughout winter. With this simple process, you don’t have to worry about buying squash to satisfy your craving for hearty winter squash soup. Instead, make your homegrown squash supplies last for months longer than they otherwise would by curing them in the sun before storing them.

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