If you thought that the cans of pumpkin puree available at the grocery store contained the innards of Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins, you may be surprised to find out that this is not necessarily so.
The fruits that we think of as pumpkins are in the same genus, Cucurbita, as other winter squashes, such as butternut and Hubbard. Thus they are closely related. However, butternut and Hubbard squash can be less stringy in texture and richer in color and sweetness than the pumpkins we use for carving. Therefore manufacturers may use one or more kinds of winter squashes to make canned “pumpkin.”
Oregon is a leading producer of winter squash for commercial canning. The squash grown for this purpose are about two feet long and must have either pink or orange skin. Each fruit is mechanically split so the seeds can be removed, then the squash is cooked in a large pressure cooker. The cooked squash is pureed and blended, skin and all, and placed into cans labeled “pumpkin.”
Apparently many consumers say they do not like squash but they do like pumpkin. I, on the other hand, only like butternut squash and do not eat any of the other kinds of winter squashes, including canned pumpkin from the store. Thus the accompanying recipe for pumpkin soup is made from butternut squash. If manufacturers can fool around with semantics, I guess I can too!
Butternut squash is readily available at grocery stores at this time of the year, but you might want to try growing your own next year if you haven’t ever done so. Winter squashes can be grown in Virginia veggie gardens because we are blessed with a rather long growing season, a necessary requirement for these fruits to reach maturity.
Winter squash are harvested well into fall, just before the first severe frost. They keep well in storage “as is,” as long as they have developed a hard rind that you cannot penetrate easily with your thumbnail. The main point to remember when picking them for storage is to be sure to keep about two inches of stem attached to each one.
If you pick a winter squash before the rind has hardened or if the stem comes off, the squash will not be suitable for long-term storage unless you process it. Or you can just go ahead and cook it for a meal.
Winter squashes originated in Central America, and they were grown and eaten by North American Indians long before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. Their name comes from the fact that they are eaten throughout the winter.
Winter squashes are related to the summer squashes, but those vegetables have a shorter growing season and are ready to be harvested and consumed much sooner. Summer squashes do not keep well “as is” in storage and so they must be eaten fairly quickly after picking or processed for longer-term preservation. They get their name from the fact that you either eat or preserve these squash during the summer.