Early fall is a busy time for gardeners. If you grow fruit, apples and pears are coming in. You may be overwhelmed with tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and busy putting things up for winter. And the pests and diseases are at their peak.
One of the things I like about growing winter squash is that they are self-preserving. All you do is let them cure, wash them in a bleach solution to kill mold (optional), and store in a moderately cool place. My 65F basement does the trick until February at least. As long as they are well ventilated, most squash will keep for months and some, like Seminole Pumpkin, and reputed to keep for over a year. Waltham Butternut is my standard squash. The vines are big, but the amount of very healthy calories they produce is significant, and they are very resistant to squash vine borer and other nasties. You get a compact package with lots of usable flesh.
This year, I also experimented with an old fashioned cheese-type squash variety called “Upper Ground Sweet Potato” (Cucurbita moschata). Felder Rushing recommends it as a tough southern variety, and the internet assured me it produced 6-8 lb. squashes. The internet was wrong. It’s a tough variety, yes, but what I got from one plant was 43 lbs., 35 lbs., 23 lbs., 12 lbs. and a couple more hanging on the vine out there. By comparison, my entire butternut crop — two varieties worth — was 36 lbs. with a few more to come in.
First, Upper Ground was genuinely tough. Pests avoided it. Disease did not touch it. Not even the dread pickleworm, which destroyed about half my butternut crop, drilled a single hole. (If if were the only squash, the pests may have been less choosy.) While the vines were large and monstrous, they did not run in all directions and contented themselves with climbing up a fence and perching on top. The vines seem to hold fruit up to about 20 pounds before the fruit pull off the vine, so support may be necessary for large ones.
Still, other than take it to a tiger sanctuary as a toy or to carve up for Halloween, what DO you do with a 43 pound squash?
It’s become clear that it is not safe to can squash puree due to inconsistencies in viscosity and pH from squash to squash. This is unfortunate since pumpkin butter is one of life’s truly tasty treats. It is safe pressure can squash in 1″ cubes, but this requires peeling the squash and cutting it into cubes. Perhaps your potato peeler is better than mine, but would you attempt to peel this?
Yeah, me neither. So I decided to steam/roast the squash, puree and freeze it. The flesh was quite thick, and unlike many large squash varieties, it was tender and edible instead of stringy like large Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins.
It took 4 double-rack oven loads at 60-90 minutes each to roast everything.
In the end, I got 8 1/2 quarts (16 pounds) of drained squash puree plus 3/4 pint of roasted squash seeds.
In terms of calories for the space and sheer toughness, this variety is a huge winner. That’s a lot of squash off just the one fruit, and I have more to process. On the downside, the size virtually guarantees at some point you will have to process it for either the canner or freezer or dehydrator. It’s just too much for even a large family to knock out in a few days. In the end, I don’t think I’ll be growing this variety again. As the only person who eats squash in this household, it’s just overwhelming. A stash of butternuts in the basement is much easier to do, uses less energy, and is more appropriate for meal time preparation.
I will be experimenting with long term storage with the other Upper Ground squashes, and will report back how good of a keeper this variety is. The outer rind is thicker than butternut, so I suspect it will be a champion keeper.
As I look out the window, I see my upper ground sweet potato squash plant is rather optimistically blooming again.
(By Nicole Castle)