Butternut squash is a type of winter squash. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. It has hard, yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp, and is an excellent source of nutrition during the winter months. This soup is one terrific way to enjoy it!
Winter squashes are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and relatives of both the melon and the cucumber. Winter squashes like butternut or pumpkin have hard shells that are difficult to pierce, enabling them to have long storage periods under the right conditions.
Modern day squash developed from wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been grown and eaten for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their nutritious seeds because early squash did not contain much flesh, and what they did contain was very bitter.
As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe, and like many other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish conquerers.
Today, there are hundreds of beautiful varieties of squash, and the largest commercial producers include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.
Culture and Cultivation
Butternut squash need warm soil to germinate so either start your seeds indoors or direct seed outside once the weather warms up.
If starting indoors, plant your seeds in 3-inch seed pots rather than flats, placing the seeds about an inch under the soil. You can plant 2 or 3 in each pot, to transplant together in hills.
Keep your pots somewhere sunny and warm or they may take a long time to sprout. Get them started about 3 weeks before your last frost date.
Each butternut squash plant will produce several large squash, so you won’t need more than 3 or 4 plants. Transplant your seedlings about 2 weeks after your last frost has passed.
If you are putting seeds straight into the garden, plant them at the same time as you would put out your transplants. They will not germinate or sprout in cold soils. Plant 4 or 5 seeds in a small hill, and thin down to 2 or 3 after they have sprouted.
Winter squash like a fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost. Plant them in a location that will have full sun and allow a lot of space for the vines. Each hill should have 3 feet of space around it. Mulch them well with straw to keep the soil from drying out too fast.
Butternut squash can be grown upward on a fence or trellis if you don’t want to have vines all through your garden. If you plan on training them up this way, you can plant your seedlings just 2 feet apart. In this case, don’t plant them in little groups, but rather just one plant every 2 feet.
On trellises, the plant won’t be able to support heavy, mature squashes up in the air on its own. So get creative and support those fruits with slings or nets fashioned from pantyhose, old t-shirts, or mesh produce bags. Just be sure to tie them to the trellis, not the vines.
Like cucumbers, squash vines will first have a round of male-only flowers come to bloom before the female ones do. So don’t be alarmed if none of the first blossoms set any fruit. They aren’t supposed to.
As the season comes to a close, you can help the plant divert its resources to finishing off the larger squash before winter by pinching off any new flowers and removing very young squash.
No single food provides a greater percentage of certain carotenoids (like alpha- and beta-carotene) in the diet than winter squash. The phytonutrients, complex carbohydrates and polysaccharides in winter squash are anti-inflammatory and help regulate blood sugar, too.
Butternut squash (and all winter squashes) also contain a great amount of vitamin C (about one-third of the Daily Value in every cup) and a very good amount of the antioxidant mineral manganese as well.
One cup of baked winter squash contains approximately 340 milligrams of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and also provides a good amount of vitamins B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, and folate.
Selection and Storage
Winter squash is easily prone to decay, so it is important to carefully inspect them before you buy them. Choose squashes that are firm, heavy for their size and have dull, not glossy, rinds. The rind should be hard all around. Avoid those with any signs of decay, which shows up as areas that are soft, water-soaked or moldy.
Depending upon the variety, winter squashes like butternut can be kept for one month to six months. The thicker the rind, the longer they tend to keep.
Keep winter squash away from direct exposure to light and do not subject them to extreme heat or extreme cold. The ideal temperature for storing winter squash is between 50-60°F (about 10-15°C).
Once it is cut, cover the pieces of winter squash in a glass storage container and store them in the refrigerator, where they will keep for a few days. The best way to freeze winter squash is to first cut it into pieces of suitable size for your individual recipes.
All winter squashes need to be peeled and de-seeded before cooking. Save the seeds though; they are outstandingly nutritious, and can be dried, roasted and salted or seasoned with cayenne, cumin, ginger or other spices for an outstanding snack!
You can also roast a winter squash and then peel the cooked, softened skin off or scoop out the flesh, which is often easier than peeling it raw. That is what we will do for this recipe.
This easy to make, roasted butternut squash soup recipe will nourish you well on cold winter days, and make the best of this healthy, long-storing vegetable.