— Jamie Stang, Wright County Master Gardener and Master Food Preservation Specialist, Crow River Food Council Member

Now that fall is officially here, the first frost of the season isn’t far behind. It’s time to turn our attention to harvesting and storing produce such as pumpkins and winter squash. Here are a few best practices for making the most of your fall produce, according to the University of Minnesota extension program.

food-pasture-pumpkin-209515Harvest your squash and pumpkins before a hard freeze. It’s OK to leave them out during light frosts, which are often designated by nights at 29 degrees or above. Don’t worry if the vines turn brown or die back from the frost, as they are less cold tolerant than the fruit. When cutting the fruit from the vine, leave a few inches of stem attached.

The best way to cure your squash is to leave it in the garden for a week or two during dry sunny weather. This helps the skin toughen and lengthens the time it will store. If the weather is damp or rainy (as our year has been) you can take the fruit indoors and store it in a room that is around 80 degrees. Make sure you don’t crowd the fruit, as ventilation is important to allow the skin to toughen and to prevent molding. Handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising, which can speed up the process of rotting. If the fruit starts to rot, toss it in the trash quickly as squash and pumpkins can go from hard gourds to “soup” in just a few days.

butternut-squash-food-fresh-53458If you don’t have space to store whole fruit, you can preserve pumpkin and squash by roasting or boiling them, then freezing the mashed cooked fruit. Slides of squash can also be dehydrated. Canning cubed pumpkin and winter squash is fine if done in a pressure canner, but cooked pumpkin or pumpkin butter should not be canned due to the high pH and thickness of the product.

More information about preserving your squash and pumpkin can be found at the UMN Extension website: https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/preserving-winter-squash-and-pumpkins.

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