With the first twinge of fall, I start dreaming of eating butternut squash for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Can you blame me? They’re delicious, versatile, and piled way high at my local grocery store and farmers market these days.
There’s only one thing standing in the way between me and filling my kitchen with this beloved gourd right now: How can I tell if the butternut squash is ripe? How can I avoid that dreaded pale, tasteless interior? Similar to watermelon, it’s impossible to know what the inside looks like without cutting through the skin. Here’s what I found out from the experts about picking the best butternut squash.
The One Way To Tell Butternut Squash Is Ripe
The good news is that you don’t have to cut into the butternut squash to tell if it’s sweet, creamy, and ready to enjoy. If you want to pick a good, ripe butternut squash every time for soups, casserole, and pastas, take a close look at it’s skin.
According to the horticulture experts at Iowa State University, “butternut squash are mature (ready to harvest) when the skin is hard (can’t be punctured with the thumbnail) and uniformly tan in color.” If the skin is easy to pierce, the squash is not ripe and will taste starchy, flavorless, and sometimes even bitter. Light to dark green spots on the skin tells you it’s definitely not ready to be eaten. If the skin is very pale—more creamy white than tan—it’s not ripe. Look for a rich tan, darker amber, or orange color. It should also be matte, not glossy.
Did you accidentally end up with unripe butternut squash? Don’t worry—butternut squash continues ripening a bit after harvest. Rhoda Burrows, professor and horticulture specialist at San Diego State, states that “in weeks, and even months, after harvest winter squash slowly convert starch to sugars, increasing their appeal to our taste buds.”
Keep the unripe butternut squash in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place until you see the telltale signs that it’s ready to be enjoyed: firm, matte, and evenly tan skin.
How To Store Butternut Squash
Once the butternut squash is ripe and ready for cooking, you don’t have to use it right away. Store it whole (don’t peel it!) in a cool, dry place for up to two months. When stored between 50°F and 60°F, butternut squash can keep for longer—up to four months.
Also, store butternut squash away from fruits and vegetables that release ethylene gas, like potatoes, onions, apples, and bananas. The gas causes the butternut squash to ripen faster and potentially rot.
Just remember that whole vegetables will last longer in your pantry than chopped up and stored in your fridge. So if you want to make sure your squash lasts as long as possible, don’t cut it up until you’re ready to cook with it.
Cozy Butternut Squash Soup Recipes
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Hearty Pumpkin Chili
- Vegan Butternut Squash Soup
- Curried Butternut Squash Soup
- Curried Squash and Pear Soup
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com.