Winter squash are distinct from their summer counterparts due to their thick skins, which enable prolonged storage without spoilage. This is especially valuable in places like Alberta, where long winters necessitate durable produce. Here are the popular winter squash varieties grown in Alberta:
- Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata): This bell-shaped squash with smooth tan skin is prized for its sweet, nutty flesh.
- Acorn Squash (Cucurbita pepo): Dark green and acorn-shaped, this variety has a mild, slightly nutty flavour.
- Spaghetti Squash (Cucurbita pepo): Post-cooking, the flesh of this yellow squash separates into spaghetti-like strands.
- Delicata Squash (Cucurbita pepo): Elongated with green stripes, it's known for its creamy flavour.
- Kabocha Squash (Cucurbita maxima): Also called Japanese pumpkin, it pairs a green exterior with a sweet interior.
- Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima): Large and bumpy-skinned, their colour varies from blue-gray to orange-red.
- Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo): Beyond jack-o'-lanterns, pumpkins are cherished for their sweet flesh and seeds.
Originating from Central and South America, squash has been a staple for millennia. Indigenous communities in Alberta have long valued squash for their sustenance, and it is one of the sacred Three Sisters foods (the other two being corn and beans). European settlers further integrated various winter squash varieties into Alberta's agricultural fabric.
Alberta's culinary scene has wholeheartedly embraced winter squash, showcasing their versatility. Butternut squash finds its way into rich, creamy soups, perfect for cold nights. Acorn squash, when halved and roasted, becomes a bowl, ready to be stuffed with grains, cheeses, or meats. Spaghetti squash, once scraped out, can be sautéed with garlic, tomatoes, and parmesan for a quick side dish. Delicata, sliced into rings and roasted, becomes caramelized, especially when drizzled with maple syrup. Kabocha can be pureed into curries, delivering sweetness to spicy dishes. Hubbard squash, given its dense texture, is perfect for pies and casseroles. And pumpkins? Beyond pies, pumpkin puree can be a base for pancakes, muffins, or even pasta sauces. The seeds, roasted with a sprinkle of salt, make a crunchy snack. In many Albertan homes during fall, stuffed pumpkin soup — a whole pumpkin filled with a mix of cream, cheese, and spices, then baked — becomes a centrepiece dish.