Acorn squash when to harvest

How And When To Pick Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is a form of winter squash, grown and harvested much like any other type of winter squash variety. Winter squash differs from summer squash when it comes to harvesting. Acorn squash harvest takes place during the mature fruit stage once rinds have become tough rather than the more tender rinds found in summer squash varieties. This allows for better storage, as most types of winter squash are stored throughout the winter season once harvested.

When are acorn Squash Ripe?

So when are acorn squash ripe and how do you know when to pick acorn squash? There are several ways you can tell that an acorn squash is ripe and ready to be picked. One of the easiest ways is by noting its color. Ripened acorn squash turns dark green in color. The portion that has been in contact with the ground will go from yellow to orange. In addition to color, the rind, or skin, of acorn squash will become hard.

Another way to tell ripeness is to look at the plant’s stem. The stem attached to the fruit itself will become withered and brown once the fruit has thoroughly ripened.

When to Harvest Acorn Squash

Acorn squash takes about 80-100 days to harvest. If you’re going to store acorn squash rather than eat it right away, allow it to remain on the vine a little longer. This allows the rind to harden some more.

Although it can stay on the vine for several weeks after becoming ripe, acorn squash is susceptible to frost. Frost damaged squash does not keep well and should be discarded along with those that exhibit soft spots. Therefore, harvesting acorn squash prior to the first heavy frost in your area is important. Generally, this takes place sometime in September or October.

When harvesting acorn squash, carefully cut the squash from the vine, leaving at least a couple inches of the stem attached to help preserve moisture.

Storing Your Acorn Squash Harvest

  • Once your acorn squash has been harvested, store them in a cool, dry area. It will keep for several months if given the right temperatures. Usually this is between 50-55 F. (10-13 C.). Squash does not do well in temperatures below or higher than this.
  • When storing the squash, avoid piling them on top of one another. Instead, lay them out in a single row or layer.
  • Cooked acorn squash will keep for short-term periods in the refrigerator. However, to keep cooked squash for longer periods, it’s better to freeze it.

How can I tell if my acorn squash is ripe before cutting it open?

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The Home Cook’s Guide to Acorn Squash

An acorn squash is easy to recognize by its shape, which is ridged and squat like an acorn. But unlike the nuts which fall from oak trees, acorn squashes are typically dark green on the outside and pale yellow on the inside. Because they’re hardy and can be prepared in a variety of different ways (even the peel is edible!), these squashes are very popular winter vegetables.

Image zoom Photo by Meredith

How Does Acorn Squash Taste?

Acorn squash is milder in taste and slightly more fibrous in texture than butternut squash: Its sweet, nutty flavor is additionally muted by the watery character of its flesh. Still, most recipes that call for acorn squash can be made with another member of the squash family, such as Hubbard or butternut. Pumpkin is another possible substitute.

Nutritional Benefits of Acorn Squash

One cup of acorn squash contains only about 76 calories, but provides more than half of the vitamin A you need all day, as well as a quarter of the recommended daily allowance of fiber and vitamin C. In addition to being nutrient dense, it’s also a source of a wide range of nutrients, which means the vegetable can help strengthen your bones, aid digestion, ward off cataracts, and help regulate blood sugar levels. Another healthy snack is roasted acorn squash seeds, which supply about 125 calories per ounce. If serving baked or mashed, it’s important not to squander its nutritional value by adding too much sugar or salt.

Picking, Purchasing, and Storing Acorn Squash

Acorn squashes are common backyard crops, but home gardeners need to know how to tell if one is ripe. The biggest clue is color: A squash ready for picking will be dark green with a dried stem. Even if the stem isn’t present on a squash sold at a grocery store, shoppers can check its hue and make sure the skin is sufficiently firm by testing it gently with a fingernail. It should also be heavy for its size and free of mold or other blemishes.

Stored at room temperature, an acorn squash will last one or two months; to determine if one has gone bad, slice it in two. Slimy, gray seeds are a good indicator that the squash has turned.

Once cut, you can tightly cover any unwanted portion with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to four days, or cook the squash and freeze it for as long as a year.

How to Cook Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is easy to prepare for cooking: The simplest prep involves splitting the squash in two with a sharp knife, and then scooping out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. If a recipe calls for cubes, turn the squash half flesh side down and slice into rings, then cut away the peel with a knife.

Once cut and cleaned, a half acorn squash can be baked in the oven.

Chef John’s Baked Acorn Squash

Check out this technique, which involves scoring the squash to let the orange-maple glaze soak in.

Alternately, you can cook it in the microwave by placing it cut side down in a microwave-safe dish with an inch of water and heating for approximately 10 minutes, or until tender.

Finally, to grill acorn squash, wrap squash halves tightly with tin foil and cook over low flames until tender.

Browse dozens of delicious acorn squash recipes!

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Learning When to Pick Acorn Squash

What Does Acorn Squash Look Like?

To know whether your acorn squash is ripe, you first need to know what a mature fruit looks like. Acorn squash is called such because it does resemble an acorn, at least in shape. Through the growing season, the squash starts out as a pale greenish-yellow color. As they mature, the fruits turn a deep green color.

Additionally, a ripe acorn squash often has a vibrant yellow or orange streak or splotch somewhere on it. However, not all acorn squash varieties have this splash of color, so its absence is not a huge concern.

Keep Track of Days Since Planting

Along with other winter squash like spaghetti and butternut, acorn squash has a long growing season. Take note of the day you planted the seeds, then count forward 80 days. Once you hit that date on the calendar, you should start checking the acorn squash daily to monitor the ripening process.

Some types of acorn squash can take as many as 100 days to fully mature, so they may not be entirely ready at the 80-day mark. If you are not sure what variety you planted, you should be able to look on the back of the seed packet to see how long the growing season is.

Tip: Remember that even amongst plants from the same batch of seeds, the squash will mature at different rates.

Other Signs that Harvest is Approaching

There are other ways you can tell if your acorn squash is almost ripe enough to pick.

  • The vines will turn brown and look like they are dying, even if they have plenty of water.
  • The stems of the acorn squash will start to turn a grayish color and stiffen up.
  • Occasionally, a squash will fall off the vine before you can cut the stem. This is a sure sign of ripening!

Tip: If you come across a squash that has fallen off the vine, go ahead and pick it. If the weather is still warm, the lack of stem can make the fruit rot quickly.

How to Pick Acorn Squash

When it is time to harvest the acorn squash, arm yourself with a sharp knife and some gloves. Grab each stem about two inches from the fruit and cut through it. If you happen to cut too close to the actual squash, be sure to use it up before the rest. A too-close cut can allow bacteria to enter the acorn squash and cause spoilage.

Once you have harvested the ripe squash fruits, leave the rest on the vine until they are also fully grown. As long as the weather stays warm enough, the squash will continue to ripen, and the sun will cure them.

As you pick the squash, brush them free of dirt and plant debris. They can be washed and cooked right away, or you can store them for the winter.

How Long Can Acorn Squash Stay in the Field?

Acorn squash is one of the few winter squash varieties that does not continue to ripen after you cut them from the vine. Therefore, it is essential to leave them attached and in the field as long as possible. If there is a frost in the forecast, you can quickly cover the plants with a plastic sheet or other frost protector and allow them to remain uncovered during the warm fall days.

Once you have tasted the first few fruits from your acorn squash plants, you will be glad that you decided to plant this hardy winter squash. Then, as the winter months draw near, you will be even gladder when your shelf is full of them!

What happens to an acorn squash when its skin turns orange?

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Don’t Squander That Squash: Like Fine Wine, It Might Improve With Age

Delicata and acorn squash are best eaten in the first few weeks after harvest. Pamela Joe McFarlane/iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption Pamela Joe McFarlane/iStockphoto

Delicata and acorn squash are best eaten in the first few weeks after harvest.

Pamela Joe McFarlane/iStockphoto

We are deep into fall, which means winter squash are all over restaurant menus, food blogs and probably your Instagram feed.

Sweet and hearty, their orange and yellow flesh stars in soups and ravioli. They can be roasted to caramelized perfection. And — as many of us will appreciate on Thursday — they do just fine baked inside a flaky pie crust (indeed, canned pumpkin pie filling often contains squash).

But before you rush to the store, consider this: All winter squash are not created equal. Acorn, butternut and Hubbard squash — just a few of the season’s delights — fill different culinary niches. And, although they’re all typically picked within a month or so of each other in early fall, the optimal moment to eat them can differ quite a bit.

“Once a squash is harvested, it’s still very much alive,” says Michael Mazourek, a plant geneticist and breeder at Cornell University who has been growing winter squash since he was in grade school. Like peaches in a paper bag, squash continue to ripen as enzymes convert its starch into sugar. And, Mazourek says, squash taste best when they achieve a good balance of starch and sugar.

Not only do the flavor and texture of butternut squash improve with time, they actually become more nutritious. Diane Labommbarbe/iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption Diane Labommbarbe/iStockphoto

Not only do the flavor and texture of butternut squash improve with time, they actually become more nutritious.

Diane Labommbarbe/iStockphoto

Just when this occurs depends on several factors, like the type of squash and how much the fruit ripened in the field. Members of the species Cucurbita pepo — including green acorn squash and striped delicata squash — start out with relatively little starch, so they don’t have much to spare, Mazourek says. That means they won’t keep long, and are best eaten in the first few weeks after harvest.

Butternut squash, on the other hand, contain plenty of starch and last much longer off the vine. In fact, these squash — particularly if grown in short-season climates — actually get better after a few months of storage, says Brent Loy, a plant breeder at the University of New Hampshire. Not only do their flavor and texture improve, they actually become more nutritious. Most notably, the concentration of colorful pigments known as carotenoids — which help fight inflammation— can more than double after harvest, Loy says.

Last but not least, there are the rotund squashes of the species Cucurbita maxima. Some of these, like behemoth Blue Hubbard squash, can easily keep until March or April, Mazourek says. He’s even heard lore of early New England homesteaders keeping them in root cellars and lopping off chunks throughout the winter. Thanks to their high starch content and “glacier-speed” ripening, you wouldn’t want to eat these too early, Mazourek says. But there’s another reason to save them for last: They’re “going to store a long time, so you should be eating up everything else.”

The behemoth Blue Hubbard squash can easily keep until March or April, says Michael Mazourek, a plant geneticist and breeder at Cornell University. iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption iStockphoto

Unfortunately, if we buy our squash from the grocery store, it’s hard to know exactly when they were harvested or how long they’ve been on the shelf. However, the holidays provide a loose guide, Mazourek says.

For squash grown in the Northeastern U.S. and similar climates, acorns and delicatas come into season around Halloween and Thanksgiving, butternuts last through Christmas and New Years, while Hubbards can sustain squash lovers through Easter and Passover. These dates get more flexible for fruit grown further south, and growers can shift them a bit by storing squash under conditions that hasten or slow ripening. Eventually, however, all squash go downhill, either by succumbing to decay or by losing so much starch that they turn stringy.

But even if you don’t know a squash’s whole life history, you can use a few tricks to select the best tasting specimens. “Pick one that’s got the stem intact,” says Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio. This helps prevent the squash from drying out or going bad quickly. In addition, Jones says, pay attention to the fruit’s color, which reflects its health and flavor. In butternuts, for instance, he looks for a deep tan rind without any green streaks.

One exception, Loy warns, are acorn squash, which turn green long before they ripen. In his tests, he’s found that most acorns for sale at the supermarket haven’t fully matured. “Because of that, people think that you have to put brown sugar and butter when you have acorns,” Loy says. “And that’s just not the case.”

Loy says you can try checking the ground where the squash sat on the soil to see if it’s dark orange, but even that’s not a foolproof strategy. The best option, he says, is to buy acorns directly from local growers or choose other early season squash like delicatas or sweet dumplings.

Be equally cautious with off-season butternuts and other squash, Mazourek says, as these are often imported and unripe. “If you are discovering that, ‘Wow, I really don’t like these April butternut squash’,” he says, “it’s probably not the squash’s fault.” Instead, he advises opting for frozen squash, which have usually been picked when ripe in the fall and then preserved. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can stock up on some long-lasting squash during harvest season and store them yourself.

When it finally comes time to cook, chefs like Mark Cox, of Mark’s American Cuisine in Houston, like to cut the natural sweetness of early season squash like delicatas by braising them in hard cider. However, for butternuts, which he considers “more of a stand-alone item,” he highlights their buttery richness by roasting them in olive oil.

At the acclaimed Chicago restaurant Grace, chef Curtis Duffy is currently serving a dish featuring white pumpkin (a type of C. maxima) that he smokes, caramelizes and grills. It’s one great use of the squash’s dense, meaty flesh, but Duffy says you can “figure out what you like and just do it.”

The bottom line:

  • Squash storability depends on how much starch they contain.
  • Acorns and delicata squash don’t keep well and should be eaten first, usually by around Thanksgiving.
  • Butternuts often keep until Christmas and New Years, and may taste better after a month or two of storage.
  • Hubbards keep the longest, often until early spring, and also benefit from storage.
  • When choosing a squash, look for an intact stem and bright colors.
  • Beware of acorn squash, which turn green before they ripen all the way.
  • When cooking squash, experiment with preparations that best suit the variety.

Julia Rosen is a freelance science journalist based in Portland, Ore.

Acorn Squash

A type of winter squash that resembles an acorn in shape and typically measures from 6 to 10 inches in length. Acorn squash may be dark green, tan, white, or gold colored. The most common variety is the Green Acorn with a dark green ridged outer skin and a deep yellow to orange flesh. The Golden Acorn has a pumpkin orange colored outer skin with the traditional orange inner flesh. Both the Green and Golden are smaller sized Acorn squash. A more oval or longer shaped type of Acorn Squash is known as the Fordhook Acorn Squash. This variety is an elongated version of the common Green Acorn Squash and often grows to a size of 8 to 10 inches in length. Formed with the typical protruding outer ribs of the Acorn, the Fordhook is tan colored on the outside with a tradtional golden flesh on the inside.

When baked, all varieties of Acorn Squash are similar tasting. They are especially delicious topped with brown sugar, honey, and butter, providing a sweet and somewhat nutty flavor. Smaller individual squash are commonly served whole and may be stuffed with ingredients such as sausage, bread, vegetables, and seasonings which have been baked once and then again inside the squash so it is served as a “stuffed squash”. The acorn squash contains only a minor amount of beta-carotene, unlike other winter squashes, but is a good source of calcium.

How to Know When an Acorn Squash Is Ripe?

Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo) is an annual vining winter squash plant that produces ribbed fruit with green or gold rinds. When harvested ripe, the fruits store for about three months. To determine if an acorn squash is ripe, consider the appearance and texture of its skin, the condition of the vine and the number of days since sowing.

Skin Appearance

An orange patch appears on the area of the acorn squash that rests on the ground when the fruit is ripe, and skin is matte. An immature acorn squash is shiny. As the fruit ripens, it loses its shine and looks dry and dull.

Skin Texture

A ripe acorn squash has a very tough skin. To test whether an acorn squash is ripe, try to pierce the skin with your thumbnail. Your nail won’t easily leave a mark on a ripe acorn squash.

Vine Condition

As an acorn squash matures, the vine deteriorates. When an acorn squash plant turns yellow and dies back, the fruit are usually ripe.

Harvest Time

Acorn squash are usually ready to harvest about 80 to 100 days after sowing. The seeds are sown in spring after the final local average frost date, and the fruits mature as fall approaches.

Unripe Fruit

An unripe acorn squash doesn’t ripen after harvest. Acorn squash fruit texture and flavor develops as the fruit ripens. Unripe fruit are watery and taste bland, and store badly.

‘Jersey Golden Acorn’

‘Jersey Golden Acorn’ is an acorn squash variety that produces fruit that can be picked unripe without losing flavor. The flesh of this variety is sweet when the fruit is golfball-sized, and the skin is soft. You can eat unripe ‘Jersey Golden Acorn’ fruit raw or cooked.

Fruit Harvest

Harvest acorn squash by cutting the stem 1 inch from the fruit, and store the fruit in a dry place at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. An acorn squash fruit stores best at 50 to 75 percent humidity.

Harvesting Delicata and Acorn Squash

Since we planted squash very early this year (in order to get the plants established by the time June Gloom set in) we are already set to harvest some of our winter squash. Our Golden Pippin Acorn squash and most of our Delicata squash plants have withered, leaving behind golden fruits that will store through winter.

With pumpkins, it’s easy to know when to harvest – just let the vines turn brown and crispy, then pick your pumpkin. Not all winter squash is that simple. For example, I’ve been reading about gardeners who have picked acorn squash too soon and have reported that it taste horrible. There are a few tell-tale signs to help you make good harvesting decisions when picking Delicata and Acorn squash:

Thumbnail Test – Winter squash is ready to pick when the skins can not be pierced with your thumbnail. Summer squashes (like zucchini and yellow crookneck) will easily yield to a thumbnail, but winter squashes have a thicker skin, which makes them good for long storage.

Withered Vines – The vines and leaves on winter squash will turn brown and dry up, leaving behind a trail of squash that are still attached. The stems will break easily or crack if you try to lift the squash.

This Golden Pippin Acorn is not quite ready to harvest. Note there is still some yellow coloration to the stem.

These acorn squash are basically ready to harvest, since the stem is dry, brown and withered. It will crack easily.

This Delicata still has some time to go, even though the leaves have died back. The stem is still green and the squash is bright. The cream color will change when it is ready.

The yellow circle indicates dried vines – this squash is ready to pick. The background color has yellowed a little and orange flecks are seen in some places.

Harvesting tips: Cut squash with pruning sheers, leaving at least one inch of stem on them. This apparently increases their ability to store longer. Use any squash that show signs of cracking or softening right away, but if it’s too far gone, bury it or compost it, and you will likely get a surprise volunteer next spring.

One of the reasons why I grow Delicata squash is because it’s unusual looking. When ripe the cream background and deep green stripes will be tinged with orange. The other great thing about Delicata is that it can be eaten without peeling the skin. What a time-saver!

Note: Acorn squashes are usually green, so it’s easier to know when to harvest those – when the skin has turned deep green, and the underside has changed color from yellow to orange.

Curing: All winter squashes need to cure for a few days. You can cure your squash by leaving them in the sun for a few days, or bring them indoors and keep them in a warm area to allow the skin to harden further. After that, you can store them for months!

What’s your favorite squash to grow (and eat)? How is your squash doing this year? Share your experiences here.

We often refer to Winter squash as “long-season crops”. Long-season crops typically grow slowly and remain in the garden for the majority of the growing season, planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. While summer squash (the soft skinned counterparts of winter squash) grow relatively quickly and have a very short storage life; when properly cured, the tough skinned winter squash can store up to 6 months in a cool, dry location. The key to growing perfect butternut and acorn squash (not to mention pumpkins and kabocha) is simply knowing the lifecycle of the plant, when to harvest, and how the fruits should be cured.

Winter squash fruit is mature when it is full sized, properly colored and has a tough skin. Sizes and color will vary between varieties. Even if your squash already appears mature and takes on the color and size you expect, we highly recommend leaving the fruit on the vine while the plant dies back. The warm temperatures of late summer and early autumn will help cure the fruit and increase the storage life.

Once the plant has died back, use sharp pruners or a knife to cut the stem from the vine. Make sure to leave 5-6 inches of stem on the top of the fruit. A broken stem exposes the fruit to rot, so be careful when harvesting and transporting fruit. If one of your stems does break off, be sure to use that fruit within a few weeks of harvest.

Fruit that is exposed to freezing temperatures will not store long, so make sure to harvest winter squash before the first frost in the fall. In general, temperature extremes reduce storage life, so aim to keep your winter squash in a dry location that stays between 50 and 55°F. Check up on your stores every few days throughout the fall and winter, turning fruits to look for bruising or wounds that can lead to rot. Use the ugliest and most damaged fruits first and enjoy your harvest as long as possible through the off-season!

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