The arrival of winter squash, in all of its many shapes, sizes, and colors, signals not only a change of seasons, but also a desire for heartier food. Since winter squash is consistently on our shopping lists these days, it's useful to know just exactly what to look for at the farmers market or grocery store to ensure we buy the best butternut or acorn or spaghetti squash possible. Here are five tips to always keep in mind.
1. Feel the weight.
Pick up that squash and feel the weight of it in your hands. It should feel particularly heavy for its size. Sure, that means it might be a pain to lug home from the market, but a heavier squash signals the flesh is moist and soft.
2. Check the stem.
Take a good look at the stem: It should be intact, firm, and dry. Any appearance of mold or softness means the squash is past its prime.
3. Observe the color.
Winter squash comes in a variety of colors, but in general you want whatever that color is to be rich and deep in tone. A pale spot where the squash rested on the ground as it ripened is okay as long as it is not green, which could mean it's not ripe yet.
4. Look at the surface.
The skin of the squash should be dull and matte. If it appears to be shiny, it could mean that the squash was picked too early.
5. Avoid cracks, cuts, and soft spots.
Take an even closer look at the surface to make sure there are no cuts, cracks, or soft spots. Cuts and cracks can signal that the squash was harvested too early or that it was mishandled in transit, while soft spots can cause mold to easily grow.