Saving Pumpkins: How to Store Winter Squash{15}

Here’s to a long (shelf) life

Fresh food storage is a tricky business; what’s good for the potato and parsnip gets a pshaw from the pumpkin and pepper. And while I know better, for some odd reason (like expediency, or distraction by something shiny),  I stored some pumpkins last fall in my root cellar, a cool, damp gallows of place that sentenced my winter squash to a slow rotting death.  (Conversely, my Makah Ozette spuds were happy as buried clams.)

closeup of mold on pumpkinEven in decay, nature is art. (Blossom-end of a poorly stored pumpkin.)

I’m here to spread the word, pumpkins and winter squash like it high and dry with temperatures ranging between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 50 and 75 percent.  Each pumpkin stored in my kitchen pantry is as good as the day I picked it, which was close to five months ago.  (Sweet Meat squash and Queensland Blue are my best keepers.) The squash I mistakenly relegated to an unheated, moisture-retentive cellar are now moldy messes, suitable for burial in the compost heap or chicken yard.

Fresh from the pantry, the sugar pie and green Turkish pumpkins enjoy greater longevity than their surrounding cellar-kept cousins.

As a walking human furnace, I set my home’s thermostat for 60 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night–temperatures warm enough and cool enough to keep me, pumpkins, and bulldogs happy (Drop-ins are another story.)

And what do the experts have to say about the proper storage of pumpkins? University researchers are my go-to guys and gals when I seek answers to life’s growing questions. Their findings don’t disappoint.

Tips for Storing Pumpkins and Winter Squash from North Carolina University Extension

Steps to Minimize Squash and Pumpkin Rots

  1. Maintain a good fungicide- and insecticide-spray program during the growing season to minimize foliar diseases (leaf spots and blights and insect problems.
  2. Avoid blossom-end rot of fruit by fertilizing and liming fields according to recommendations from soil test reports and by irrigating when needed.
  3. Avoid injuring fruit while on the vine.
  4. Harvest fruits when they are mature and the rind is hard, but before night temperatures are below 40oF and well before a frost or a hard freeze.
  5. Do not harvest or handle wet fruit. Do not let harvested fruit get wet.
  6. Harvest fruit by cutting the peduncle (stem) with pruning shears to leave a 3- to 4-inch handle for pumpkins and about a 1-inch stump for squash.
  7. Harvest, pack, handle, and store fruit carefully to avoid injuries.
  8. Discard all fruit that are immature, injured, or have rot or blemishes. These fruit should not be harvested or stored.
  9. Do not pick up freshly harvested fruit by the peduncle, because it may separate from the fruit and provide easy access for rot organisms.
  10. Do not stack the fruit higher than 3 ft.
  11. Do not permit harvested or stored fruit to get wet.
  12. Washing is usually not desirable, but if washing is necessary, be sure the water is chlorinated (at least 50 ppm, approximately one part 5.25% liquid bleach to 999 parts water). Prepare fresh wash solution when the water becomes cloudy and chlorine cannot be detected. Dry thoroughly.
  13. For better keeping, some growers cure pumpkins for 10 to 20 days at 80 to 85oF with good ventilation (e.g. four air exchanges per day).
  14. Harvested fruit should be stored with good ventilation (at least one air exchange per day) at 50 to 55oF and 50 to 75% relative humidity. Standard refrigeration temperatures (35 to 45oF) may cause chilling injuries and shorten shelf life. Storage at high temperature may result in excessive loss of weight, color, and culinary qualities, while high humidity may promote rots.
  15. Storage life is typically 2 to 3 months without significant loss in quality.

Related links:

frozen pumpkin puree in a freezer bagIf all else fails, start with Plan B: Roasted pumpkin puree freezes nicely. (Halibut on the left, blackberries on the right: a Pacific Northwest freezer indeed.)

The more pumpkins, the more pies.