Winter squash is a catchall phrase used to refer to several types of gourds that are harvested after they have fully matured. Ripe winter squash has a hard skin that protects it and usually allows it to be stored for up to six months with no ill effects. Popular varieties include pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, hubbard squash, and turban squash.
Pumpkins are some of the most easily recognizable types of winter squash. They typically have an orange or yellow hue and a thick skin. Most pumpkin varieties are tough and flavorless, except for sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins. These are smaller and sweeter than other varieties and can be used in pumpkin pie and other recipes.
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Acorn squash is typically small, usually weighing between one and three pounds. Its shape resembles an acorn. These squashes are usually dark green in color, but some varieties are golden. The flavor of the acorn squash is sweet and nutty. Acorn squashes are normally sold in grocery stores.
Butternut squash is another grocery-store staple. Easily recognizable by its light beige skin and its bulbous pear shape, butternut squash typically has a deep orange-colored flesh with a sweet and nutty flavor, similar to sweet potatoes. Butternut squash often works well as a soup ingredient.
Hubbard squash is a very large squash with tapered ends and blue-gray, dark green, or orange skin. The skin of a hubbard squash is very hard, which protects the squash. Its flesh is moist and less sweet than other varieties of winter squash.
Turban squash is shaped like a turban, with orange, green or white skin. It may have speckles or stripes on its skin. The flesh of a turban squash is usually a deep orange-yellow with a flavor similar to hazelnuts. Due to its unusual shape and festive color, turban squash is often hollowed out and used as a table decoration.
Winter squash may be baked, boiled, steamed, pureed or even microwaved. The hard outer skin of most of these squashes can be difficult to peel, so it's sometimes easiest to cook the squash with the skin on and then scoop out the flesh. Most varieties keep for months when stored in a cool, dry place, but they also typically freeze well for longer storage. Squash and pumpkin seeds can be toasted, seasoned and eaten as a snack. In many cases, winter squash can replace pumpkin in a pie, often with no noticeable flavor difference.