Have you heard of delicata squash? Perhaps you’ve seen these unique oblong striped squash at the farmers’ market but weren’t quite sure what they were. Delicata is a very sweet type of winter squash with cream colored, yellow, and green striped skin. It’s named “delicata” because of its delicate skin that doesn’t need to be peeled before cooking and can be eaten. The delicata is a cultivar of the variety Cucurbita pepo, meaning it is a close relative to zucchini, butternut squash, and pumpkins.
History and Facts
The Haudenosaunee (known as Iroquois) people have been growing winter squash in Upstate and Central New York for thousands of years. European settlers adopted winter squash as a cultivated crop from Indigenous people. The first widely-known mention of delicata squash can be traced back to the 1890s when seeds became commercially available for purchase from the “Peter Henderson Company of New York.” Delicata squash was also called the peanut squash, Bohemian squash, or sweet potato squash.
The delicata squash was popular in the early 20th century, but almost disappeared during the Great Depression because of poor yields and susceptibility to mildew. Delicata’s thin skin makes it difficult to ship long distances, and other hardy winter squashes like the butternut and acorn took the lead in popularity for commercial growing, while delicata squash remained in home gardens.
In the early 2000’s plant geneticist and breeder, Molly Jahn of Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding worked to create an open-pollinated (not a hybrid) type of delicata that was resistant to mildew. This new Cornell’s Bush Delicata grew in a bush habit rather than a vine, reducing the space farmers and home gardeners needed to grow it. The mildew resistance helped put the delicata back on the map. This squash is popular among small-scale diversified vegetable farmers and often-times appears in CSA boxes, at farmers’ markets, and at local food retail locations.
Farm crew at Hudson Valley Farm Hub harvests delicata squash for seed saving for Hudson Valley Seed Co., from hudsonvalleyseed.com
How it’s Grown
Delicata squash plants produce mature fruit in about 50-90 days, which is an important factor for the Adirondack region with a growing season of roughly 150 days. They can be direct-seeded in the ground or planted from transplants. Delicata squash grows in either a vine or bush habit, based on the type. Both types of plants require up to 6-12 feet between plantings, making them a space-expensive crop to grow.
Unlike other winter squash, delicata squash do not need to be “cured” before storage.Curing is a process of exposing a winter squash to warm temperatures, either by leaving cut squash in the summer sun, or by placing them in a warm greenhouse for about 7-14 days. Since delicata squash don’t need to be cured, they are one of the first winter squash that can be enjoyed in the late-summer, early-fall.
Delicata squash stay happy in good cool, dark storage for about three to four months after harvest. This means, December is a great time of year to really enjoy delicatas while they last! They won’t be available all winter unlike their thick-skinned cousins, like butternut and hubbard that generally stay fresh in storage up to six months and beyond.
Roasted delicata squash with red onion and pumpkin seeds, from extension.umd.edu
3 Ways to Enjoy Delicata Squash
Delicata squash are sweet and creamy like other winter squash, but are easier to prepare and cook more quickly than other varieties. Delicatas can keep well on the counter or in the refrigerator for many weeks. This makes them a great ingredient to keep on-hand for weeknight cooking.
Simple Roasted Delicata Squash
This is by far the most popular way to enjoy delicata squash. This is the quickest and simplest way to enjoy a delicata as a side dish or topping for a salad. All you have to do is cut into the squash, scoop out the seeds, and slice into half moons. Roast on a baking sheet with oil or butter, season to taste. This simple recipe pictured above seasons with salt, pepper, red onion and pumpkin seeds.
Brothy Delicata Squash Veggie Soup
My personal favorite way to enjoy delicata squash is to include it in a brothy veggie soup. Because you eat the skin, the squash pieces hold together pretty well, but disintegrate just slightly, making a veggie soup a little bit more creamy and sweet. This recipe from Andrea Bemmis of “Dishing up the Dirt” combines roasted delicata squash, chicken, and bok choy in a miso-ginger broth.
Stuffed Delicata Squash
Delicata squash make great boats for stuffing much like zucchini. Use whatever grains, beans, meat, herbs, and veggies you have on hand. This recipe uses kale, stale bread, white beans and sundried tomatos. Mushrooms, ground sausage, feta cheese and caramelized onion would be great too. Slice in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff, and roast in the oven.
Where to Buy Local Winter Squash
Wherever local veggies are sold near you! Find farmers’ markets, local food retail locations, and farmstands open during the winter at AdirondackHarvest.com.
Have you ever had delicata squash? Comment below and let us know.