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Butternut Squash – After 33 years!

I can’t believe after 33 years of gardening I am just becoming interested in growing Butternut Squash. (It’s a winter squash by the way.  Probably called that because you can keep them through the winter although they can be harvested as early as July)

I guess the potential for my interest started last year when a friend gave me one of his prized butternut squash.  It was sweet and delicious — but still not enough to encourage me to grow any last season.

Then, one of my readers planted Butternut squash in her newly prepared bed at the end of July last year and harvested 5 beauties (in drought no less!) by the first week in October. (An early crop and a late crop is very appealing.)

To further peak my interest I read that the Butternut is a native to the North America.  Sorta fun growing something native that the indians also grew.

And to throw more appeal into the pot it is resistant to the squash vine borer because of its solid stems.  (You still have to deal with squash bugs and cucumber beetles, but its a great plus to not worry about the borer.)

But you’ll never guess what pushed me over the line and made it a must have for this coming season.

It was a recipe from the ” Joy of Cooking” that one fellow said was worth the price the whole book!

It’s called Sour Cream Butternut Squash Pie. The recipe is at the end of this post and when you read it you might want to grow them as well.

Easy to Grow

They’re easy to grow and even though they sprawl 6 feet or more you can tuck them into your perennial border and let them wander like I’m going to do — as long as you watch them as you would if they were in the garden.

Prepare Your Spots

You can prepare your spots early in the year if your ground is not frozen.  Start by preparing a circle about 2 feet across and at least a foot deep.  I’m going to amend the soil with about an inch or two of leaves that have been chopped with the lawn mower. If you have compost — use that. Butternuts love soil with lots of organic matter.

After the “hill” is prepared, I’ll cover it with straw or pine to protect the ground.  When spring comes thin the mulch a bit so that the ground will warm more quickly than it does with thick mulch.

When to Plant

Butternut seed will not germinate in cold soil.  Wait to plant until the soil is warm. (If you have a soil thermometer you can test the soil temperature about 4 inches deep until it shows about 70 degrees.)

When the soil is sufficiently warm, plant about 4 seeds in each hill, 3 inches apart and one to two inches deep. When seedlings are about 4 inches tall keep the strongest 2 plants in each hill.

When to Harvest

Your squash will take 83 to 95 days to mature.  They are ready to harvest when they turn a peanut color and the stem is tan (brown) and cracking. (When ready they will resist the light pressure of your fingernail.) If you harvest before it’s fully mature you run the risk of having it lose its sweetness.

Here in Virginia we have enough time for a second crop.  Harvest BEFORE frost and don’t be tempted by articles that tell you the frost won’t hurt them.  Any spot where the frost has does damage is where the squash will rot when kept.

Still Eatable After Frost Damage

They are still eatable after frost damage, they just won’t keep in storage.

So, if you’re caught unawares and get frost damage — cut, remove the seed, bake at 350 degrees about 1 hour and enjoy. Or scoop out the beautiful flesh and freeze for another time. Or make a lovely soup or a delicious pie!

Store in an unheated room.

Undamaged squash can keep until the following spring.  Store in a cool dry place.  An unheated room would be perfect.

As promised, here’s the recipe for the Pie from the “Joy of Cooking”. (I plan on making some adjustments when I make this pie.  For example: I’ll make my crust from scratch and I’ll use honey instead of sugar.)

Sour Cream Butternut Squash Pie One 9-inch pie; 8 servings
A tangy pie with a light, souffle-like texture.

Position a rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Building up a high fluted rim, prepare in a 9-inch pan, preferably glass, glazing with the egg yolk: Baked Flaky Pastry Crust, or Pat-in-the-Pan Butter Crust.

In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk together thoroughly:
1 1/2 cups freshly cooked butternut squash
8 ounces (Scant 1 cup) sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves or allspice
1/4 tsp salt

Whisking constantly, heat over medium heat until just warm to the touch.

Beat on medium speed until foamy: 3 large egg whites, at room temperature.  Add: 1/4 tsp cream of tartar.  Continue to beat until soft peaks form, then gradually beat in: 1/4 cup sugar.

Increase the speed to high and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the squash mixture,

Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Bake until the top has browned lightly and feels softly set when touched, 40 to 50 minutes.

Let cool completely on rack.  At this point the pie can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.  Let warm at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with whipped cream.

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25 comments to Butternut Squash – After 33 years!

  • Katy

    It’s nice to see that you continue to be adventurous in your gardening after so many years. Because I’m so new at it, every year is an adventure for me. I appreciate all your ideas and advice. The pie recipe sounds wonderful. I have an incredible butternut squash soup recipe. If you’d like it, just let me know.

  • That looks like a great recipe. Butternut squash is my favorite — we practically live on it all winter. Last year we harvested about 60 squash from our patch. We gave away a few of them, but we managed to eat most of them, if you can believe it. My daughter makes a creamy, blended butternut squash and potato soup with chicken stock and curry spice. She had plenty of opportunity to experiment with the recipe all winter, and it’s pretty good.

  • Theresa

    Hi Katy,
    I’d love to have your butternut squash soup recipe. Why don’t you leave it on this post as a comment so all can enjoy.

    And Katy, I think you’ll find every year to be an adventure no matter how many years you garden. So many variables and so many new things to learn. 8)

    Thanks for commenting. Looking forward to the squash recipe.

    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Diane,

    60 butternuts! I’m impressed! And yes, I can believe you ate most of them. There are so many ways you can fix them.

    Your daughter’s recipe sounds wonderful! Will you share with us?

    Sure appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    Theresa

  • don

    I’m growing them for the first time this year too. What are the water requirements? I have to read up on them a little bit.
    don

  • Theresa

    Hi Don,

    We’ll have to compare notes at the end of the season. That’ll be fun.

    Regarding water requirements —- In my garden things have to take what falls from the sky. I have not watered a garden in 33 years. I did haul a few buckets of water to various plants last year in the worse drought I ever remember.

    I haven’t looked it up, but I’ll bet what you find will say at least an inch a week. That does not happen in my garden. We have too much hot weather without rain for anything to get an inch of rain a week.

    My plants haven’t liked this last few weeks of cold. The last two days of warmth have been more to their liking. They’ll start growing now.

    Good luck with them! Let me know how you do.

    Theresa

  • Katy

    Butternut Squash Soup
    Ingredients:
    6 tablespoons chopped onion
    4 tablespoons butter
    6 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
    3 cups chicken broth
    1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
    1(8 ounce) packages cream cheese
    Directions:
    In a large saucepan, sauté onions in butter until tender. Add squash, chicken broth, marjoram, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to boil; cook 20 minutes, or until squash is tender.
    Purée squash and cream cheese in a blender or food processor in batches until smooth. Return to saucepan, and heat through. Do not allow to boil.
    Homemade croutons go well with this.
    Enjoy!

  • Theresa

    Thanks for sharing Katy! I’ll bet the cream cheese is the “secret ingredient”.

  • don

    Right now in northern Illinois,my garden is getting enough water but not enough heat. I hope the summer is a little dryer than spring.

    I will keep you updated on my squash. Good luck with yours.
    don

  • Theresa

    Thanks Don. We did have 3 days of fairly warm weather. It didn’t take but 2 days for the tomatoes, cukes and squash to notice. Now its rainy and cool again. Oh well. We’ll get there.

    Theresa

  • Ann

    My husband has a tip for butternut squash seed savers.

    He usually removes the seed and dries it to store until the next year.

    One year, we still had a squash left when is was time to plant squash. He took the seeds from that squash and planted them and low and behold, they sprouted and grew new butternuts. The trick is to not eat all your squash for winter soup!

  • Theresa

    Ann, those butternut squash are not going to be safe in my house for entire year. 8)

    Theresa

  • gayle graham

    Imagine my shock and dismay today when I went outside today to see my huge butternut squash plant wilted to the ground (squash bugs?) I had at least 20 large butternuts growing on it and a few were starting to turn tan, but not ready to ‘fall off the vine’.

    Now I’m wondering if any of these squash may, by chance, ripen off the vine? Currently, they are still hanging on the vines until I get a reply.

    Our average first frost date is around October 15 so I may have missed the deadline for fall re-planting but will give it a try.

  • Theresa

    Gayle! How sad! And 20 butternuts growing on one vine! WOW!

    The symptom – sudden wilting – sounds like the squash vine borer. Butternuts have a woody stem that is resistant to the borer, but nonetheless — that’s what it sounds like.

    You could look carefully —after the sun leaves them — and see if you see any signs of entry. If you do — you could operate on the stem and try to locate the borer (or borers) and kill them. Then you could bury that part and perhaps it will root and be ok — if you kill the borer. (Sometimes I do this with summer squash and am successful 50% of the time.)

    Also, I think you previously mentioned being inundated with cucumber beetles. They carry the wilt disease to cukes, squash, and/or melons. So that’s another possibility. (Nothing you can do about that.)

    The larger squash that are starting to turn tan will ripen off the vine. BUT – I don’t think they will cure unless they are vine ripened. So you’d have to use them maybe more quickly than you wanted. I have no first hand experience with butternut squash since this is my first year of growing them. But I doubt that the smaller ones will ripen. I would certainly keep them to see. Also I’d cut into the least ripe and if it looks good I think I might try cooking and eating to see if it’s any good.

    I would definitely replant immediately. I think you have time. Another reader planted butternut for the second time about mid July last year. She got beautiful butternuts by fall. A lot could depend on the weather, but its worth a try. I’ve just started more.

    Also, if you have a portable cold frame, you could protect the squash with that when the first light frost comes.

    And by the way, butternuts don’t necessarily have to “fall” from the vine. You can cut them (leaving a stub of stem) when you know they are fully ripe. The rind of the squash should resist being punctured by your fingernail.

    I hope this has been some help. Please let me know what happens.

    Theresa

  • don

    How are yours doing Theresa? My vines are doing really well, it’s the fruit thats not doing so good. I only have 3 squash so far, and they are just starting. Looks like all the energy went into the vine. I didn’t use any fertilizer, just compost. Oh well, who knows whats growing under all those huge leaves, right?
    don

  • Theresa

    Hi Don,
    So good to hear from you. I have just finished another post on Butternut Squash and will put it up soon.

    Sure sorry to hear that your plants only gave you 3 squash. I think using compost to fertilize is quite adequate. There are so many variables each year that might possibly account for the vines not setting fruit. The most common reason you hear of is too much nitrogen, but that doesn’t sound like it would apply in your case — since you fertilized with compost.

    Did you have plenty of bees to pollinate? (Just a thought.)

    I talked to a friend yesterday who raises butternuts every year and he said he didn’t get as many this year as usual and that his are smaller than usual.

    I only planted a couple, so I’ll only get about 6 squash. (I didn’t have room in the garden earlier so I planted in my flower border.) They really looked wonderful until a week or so ago and then the vines drooped. But I’ll still get the squash. Two are not ripe, but I’ll just eat them right away.

    I started some more in June and they are now under row covers in the garden. I’m hoping that I’ll have time for them to mature before the first frost.

    Good to hear from you. Hope overall your garden was a great success this year.

    Warmest regards,
    Theresa

  • gayle

    Theresa,
    I was not able to save the butternut vine, which, by the way was HUGE!

    I harvested those butternuts just yesterday. (Left them in the garden to see if they’d ripen more outside.) Today I made butternut squash soup and it was very good. The squash are not as tan as I recall them being (therefore, not as vine-ripened) but they are good. Total harvest was 16 good size squash.

    Can’t wait for the chickens to go in there this fall and harvest the bugs that killed my squash plant!

  • don

    Thanks for the reply. I thought about nitrogen too, but no extra fertilizer was used. The rest of the garden is a sucess. I grew celery and potatos for the first time this year also. Celery looks great and the potato vines are starting to die off, so we will see how those do.
    Now if the mosquitos and the Japanese Beetles would go away, all would be good in the garden.
    don

  • Theresa

    Sounds like you had a great garden Don!

    I’ll bet homegrown celery is out of this world!

    Hope you’ll get a good crop of potatoes. Also — certainly hope you treated yourself to some new potatoes. Talk about delicious!

    Keep up the good work Don!

    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Gayle,

    Sure disappointing about your butternut vine. At least you harvested 16 good sized squash which I think is fabulous!

    My vines are about done in. I looked tonight and think I’ll go ahead and harvest the squash tomorrow. Have 2 that are not ripe. But they’ll be good.

    Thanks for the “rest of the story.” Sure hope the chickens get the villain.

    Theresa

  • Mela Weber

    Hello fellow squash growers!
    I am growing my first winter squash crop at a community garden this season and some of my beautiful squash are disappearing. Can I pick them early and store them. Will they ripen after I pick them. I am afraid that there won’t be any left if I wait until after the vines die down.
    Thanks for any suggestions you may have.
    My favorite way to enjoy butternut squash is to peel, cube and simmer in a bit of orange juice, they are great chilled and added to a salad.
    Mela

  • Theresa

    Hi Mela,

    What a shame about your squash disappearing.

    You can pick them early, but they won’t store very long. Couple of weeks maybe. Depends on how far along they are. If they are ready to turn tan and in good condition they will probably store a bit longer.

    Simmering in orange juice sounds good. Added to a salad sounds great too. Thanks for the tips.

    Theresa

  • Genene

    Hi there… just came across your post/blog while looking for info on butternut. I’ve loved them & grown them for years but since I moved to S.E. Idaho I haven’t harvested much of any of it. We got our first light frost last night so I’ve been covering vines last night & tonight. I’m hoping to harvest them all in a few weeks. One broke off the vine & stem when I slipped while trying to cover up. I was trying to decide if it would still ripen in the house or just what. It’s getting tan with but there’s still some light green stuff. Do you think it will ripen. As I said, the stem broke all the way off too. Thanks for a delicious sounding recipe!!

  • Theresa

    Genene, sometimes butternut are fine to eat even if they’re broken off the vine a bit ahead of time. I’d save it and give it a try. You have nothing to loose and maybe a squash to gain. 🙂
    Good luck with it.
    Theresa

  • Betty Dotson

    Theresa,

    I was just wondering if you made the Butternut Squash Pie & if it was as good as you expected. If not, what would you adjust to make it better?

    I have 4 Butternut Squash on 2 plants, so far.

    Thanks,
    Betty

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