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The Ultimate Guide to Types of Winter Squash (for Your Front Stoop & Your Stew!)

Squash! Pumpkins! Gourds! Call them what you will, we've got it covered.

October  9, 2019
Photo by Food52

Fall is finally here, which means dropping temperatures; nature preening in shades of gold, orange, and red; and gathering around for the holidays. It also means decorating, and cooking with, the seasonal produce family known as winter squash.

The scientific Latin name for the group is cucurbitaceae, which includes plants like cucumber and watermelon, as well as the ones colloquially identified as gourds, like squash, pumpkin, and zucchini. Here, we’ll discuss the ones that are specifically in their prime through fall.

Winter squash (as opposed to summer squash) is the name of the group that is harvested during September and October. These are all the seasonal gourds that are best for decorating, and the pumpkins that are fit for eating. From the jack-o’-lantern pumpkins that are traditionally carved to sweet butternut squash, many serve as both ornament and food, while some should just be one or the other. We’ve broken down the 12 most popular types of winter squash, so you know exactly what to do with each.

Decorative and delicious

Some of the most iconic, beautiful gourds—the faces of fall, if you will—are very enjoyable to cook with.

Acorn Squash

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

This small, green, deeply ribbed squash would look stunning in an array of gourds on your front stoop. Its yellow flesh also tastes buttery and nutty when simply roasted.

Butternut Squash

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

The light yellow-orange hue and elongated peanut shape of the butternut squash make it an attractive gourd for decoration, but it’s best known for its role in warming soups and savory pastries like this caramelized onion and butternut squash tart.

Carving Pumpkins

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

While the large pumpkins you find in patches beside a corn maze are grown specifically for fall decorations, aka jack-o’-lanterns, they’re definitely still edible—even if a bit more watery and less flavorful than pumpkins grown specifically for cooking.

Cinderella Pumpkins

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

As the name suggests, Cinderella pumpkins are gorgeous. Flattened and more rounded, they’re also sweet and moist, which makes them perfect candidates for pie.

Delicata Squash

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Light orange with green stripes, delicata squash is certainly among the most eye-catching. It’s also known as the “sweet potato of squashes” because it boasts a rich, creamy, brown sugar flavor which pairs beautifully with, say, a spicy yoghurt dressing.

Hybrid and Heirloom Pumpkins

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

These bumpy, warty pumpkins come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, making for a gourd display full of pattern and texture. Plus, many of them are tasty in soups, as well as roasted.

Kabocha Squash

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

A Japanese variety, kabocha squash looks like a small green pumpkin. Its flavor is perhaps the sweetest of all its gourd cousins, and many say it tastes like chestnut.

White Pumpkins

Photo by Food52

You can mix up the colors of your decorative gourd arrangement with white pumpkins, which are also very flavorful for baking.

Simply Ornamental

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

These teeny tiny gourds are best used for autumnal decorating of tables and front stoops.

Miniature Pumpkins

Perfect for a tabletop or desktop presentation, these handheld pumpkins are not exactly fit for consumption.

Tiny Gourds

These little fruits are adorable, colorful, and warty. Use them to adorn interior surfaces for seasonal festivity only.

Just for cooking

While you are free to decorate your stoop or table with whatever it is that brings you joy, there are a few that are far more delicious than they are aesthetically interesting.

Spaghetti Squash

Photo by Mark Weinberg

This bright yellow orb is not much to look at, but it’s interior is long, thin, and spaghetti-like and great to cook with. Scoop it out and eat it as a pasta alternative with your favorite sauce.

Sweet Georgia Candy Roaster Squash

Photo by Morgan Goldberg

Large, long, and a bit awkward looking, this squash has a flavor that is sweet and unique. The flavor intensifies the longer it’s stored, so it’ll turn candy-like if you roast it after letting it age a while.

Decor Inspiration

Festive Tabletop

For a festive tabletop, look to miniature pumpkins and tiny gourds. A bowl or rectangular box filled with gourds of all colors and shapes does the trick, but if you’re feeling crafty, you could hollow out the gourds and insert tea lights for some seasonal ambiance.

Seasonal Stoops

Pull out all the stops for your home entrance gourd display by flanking your front door with piles of colorful pumpkins and squashes. If you want to take it to the next level, arrange your bountiful display with vines.

Unique Ideas

If you’re looking to exercise extra creativity, incorporate tiny gourd varieties into a fall cheeseboard, hollow out carving pumpkins to make flower vases, or craft a gourd wreath.

What are your favorite fall gourds, and what do you use them for? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Dana Ernest
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Dana E. October 10, 2019
Question for Food52-ers! I love butternut squash but it's sooo annoying to cut and peel. I've read about the microwave trick to soften it - does it really work?
Arati M. October 15, 2019
I've read about that one, too, and would love to know if it works for you when you get around to trying it. Although I much prefer the peel off, I sometimes buy smaller, very young butternut squash and roast them long and slow. That usually allows me to leave the peel on...