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How To Tell When Acorn Squash Is Bad

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I have been growing squash all my life. That is, yellow straight-neck squash, yellow crook-neck squash, zucchini, and of course, acorn squash. There are two major questions that people have when they first decide to plant squash. (1) How can I tell when acorn squash is ripe; and (2) How can I tell when acorn squash is bad.

Acorn squash is ripe when the color changes to a very dark green, the part of the squash touching the ground turns from yellow to orange, and the skin becomes very hard.

When an acorn squash goes bad, the outside will be dull or pale in color rather than vibrant, the squash will develop dark spots and patches of soft and mushy flesh, and there may be mold growing on its skin and/or on the inside in the flesh.

Will Acorn Squash Ripen After Being Picked?

Green acorn squash at the market

Acorn squash will not continue to ripen after being picked, so if picked too soon, the squash will have inferior flavor and will not stay good for as long as a fully ripe acorn squash. It is better to wait until the outside color is a vibrant, dark green and the spot that touches the ground turns orange.

Can You Eat Under Ripe Acorn Squash?

Yes, you can eat under ripe acorn squash, but the flavor will not be as sweet as a fully ripe acorn squash. The taste will be more savory, not sweet as it should be.

What Is Toxic Squash Syndrome?

Members of the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and gourds, produce a chemical known as cucurbitacin, which creates a bitter taste in the vegetables. Though this bitter taste has been bred out of the vegetables that we are familiar with, sometimes those genes get reactivated through cross-breeding with wild members of the Cucurbitaceae family that contain higher levels of cucurbitacins than the ones we plant or because of plant growth stress due to high temperatures or drought.

If you should get a cucumber, squash, or pumpkin that is extremely bitter, do not eat it. Toxic squash syndrome can cause stomach issues including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and in rare cases, hair loss.

According to the Oregon State University Extension Office, “if you have a different looking type of fruit in your garden than expected, do not eat it if it is extremely bitter. Spit out the first bite.”

What Color Should The Inside Of An Acorn Squash Be?

Even though the skin of the acorn squash is typically a dark green or variegated green color, the flesh of an acorn squash should be a yellow-orange color, with an inside cavity filled with seeds and stringy squash pulp. Like the pumpkin, the seeds found inside an acorn squash are good as a snack when roasted.

Acorn squash seeds can be roasted similarly to how pumpkin seeds are, as shown in my video below:

Do You Eat The Skin Of An Acorn Squash?

Even though, in my experience, the skin of an acorn squash isn’t normally eaten, once it is cooked, the skin becomes tender enough to eat.

What Exactly Is An Acorn Squash?

Acorn squash cut in half with the seeds removed on a cutting board

An acorn squash is a type of winter squash that is native to North and Central America and is also known as pepper or Des Moines squash. It can be identified by its long ridges on the outside that run from one end to the other, its dark green color, although it can be variegated, and its yellow-orange flesh on the inside. It gets its name by being the same shape as an acorn. 

Even though the acorn squash is a winter squash, it belongs to the same family as summer squash, Cucurbita pepo. Unlike summer squash, acorn squash has a tough skin that is similar in texture to the skin of a pumpkin, but the flesh of the acorn squash has a mild, buttery flavor that is quite similar to pumpkin and butternut squash. Like the tomato, the acorn squash is botanically a fruit but is cooked like a vegetable.

How Does An Acorn Squash Differ From Spring Squash?

The primary difference between acorn squash and spring squash is that spring squash are picked when they are young and tender and have a skin that can be eaten right along with the rest of the squash, while the skin of the acorn squash is thick and tough to allow the squash to survive through cold weather. 

How Long Does It Take For Acorn Squash To Mature (From Seed To Harvest)?

Acorn squash takes between 80 and 100 days to mature, from seed planting to harvest. The squash can be left on the vines a little longer if you are going to store it rather than eat it right away to extend the storage time, but it should be harvested before the first frost. If the frost comes before they are harvested, the squash will be damaged and should be discarded.

What Is The Best Way To Store Acorn Squash?

Here are the best ways to store acorn squash:

  • Raw acorn squash can be stored in a cool, dry area at a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees for up to 3 months. That is the ideal temperature range for acorn squash to last the longest. Any temperature above or below that range will cause the acorn squash to go bad more quickly.
  • Cooked acorn squash will stay good for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
  • Cooked acorn squash will last for up to one year in the freezer.
  • Acorn squash can be cut into cubes and pressure canned for long-term storage. 

IMPORTANT: Canning foods like squash and pumpkin when mashed or pureed is not considered safe by the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation. They can only be safely canned in cubes. The reason for that is because dense foods like peanut butter, mashed pumpkin, or mashed squash that are too dense to allow water to freely flow through and around the food can trap bacteria in pockets which are under processed. This is why you can’t puree pumpkin prior to canning, and why you can’t use thickening agents in canned foods.

What Are The Best Ways To Cook Acorn Squash?

There are many ways to cook and enjoy acorn squash. In fact, it is quite versatile. It can be baked, broiled, grilled, and roasted. It can be stuffed, made into soup, used in a salad, and mashed along with potatoes for a unique taste experience. And it can be made into a dessert.

Whether you are using the acorn squash as a main dish, a dessert, or a side dish to go with the rest of your meal, there are many recipes and many ways to enjoy your acorn squash.

Are Acorn Squash Good For You?

Acorn squash are very nutritious, and according to Web MD, the health benefits of acorn squash include:

  • Rich in antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals, and can help protect against arthritis, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  • Contains Vitamin A needed for healthy eyes.
  • Contains carotenoids to guard against cardiovascular disease.
  • Contains beta carotene that promotes healthy skin.

Plus a ½ cup serving of acorn squash only contains 57 calories, although it is higher in carbs than green vegetables like kale and broccoli.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned, I had no prior experience with winter squash until recent years and have discovered an amazing group of vegetables, including not only acorn squash, but also butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and banana squash.  And with these new additions to my vegetable list, I have discovered many soup, casserole, and side dish options that have an amazing taste. 

My two favorites are acorn squash that I like to cook in a simple way. I cut them in half, clean out the seeds and pulp, add a pat of butter with just a little salt and pepper, and bake at 350℉ for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size.  Serve this in the shell, for an amazing treat. This makes a delicious side dish that goes with any kind of main dish. My other favorite is butternut squash which makes the most incredible soup I’ve ever tasted.

So, if you have never tried winter squash, I urge you to give one or two a try. You will be glad that you did!

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss Garden Vegetables Planting and Harvest Times (With Charts).

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