Acorn squash is a winter squash, typically first available mid to late fall. Both summer and winter squash belong to the same genus, Curcubita. Acorn squash is specifically of the Curcubita pepo variety. Unlike summer squash, winter squash has a hard exterior shell that can’t be eaten. Baking or steaming the squash yields wonderful results — a sweet yellow to orange flesh that boasts extraordinary nutritional value and taste.
Many of the versions of winter squash on the market are more newly developed than the acorn squash. The butternut squash, for instance, wasn’t first created until the 20th century. Acorn squash in its original form is ancient and was a true staple in the Native American diet.
Initially, most forms of winter squash grew wild and were only harvested for their seeds. The flesh of the acorn squash and all its companions in the winter squash family were thought bitter. When true cultivation began, the larger grown squash became sweeter and were selected specifically for sweetness.
The acorn squash remains one of the smaller of the winter squashes, and not surprisingly, its name suggests its shape. It is ridged, usually green with orange or yellow splashes of color, and weighs between one to three pounds (.45-1.36 kg). Newer varieties may be golden or almost white in color, and some variants have been grown that express more green and orange color, often called party color varieties.
Due to the small size of the acorn squash, many prefer them because they are easy to prepare. They can be baked, stuffed and baked, steamed, microwaved, and the flesh can easily be pureed for adding to soups, or as a substitute for pumpkin in pumpkin pie recipes. Most winter squash can be substituted for other forms of winter squash. Although sweetness varies, the acorn squash is generally considered medium sweet.
Baking an acorn squash is quite simple. In the easiest form, you can simply halve the squash, scoop out its seeds with a spoon, and bake for approximately an hour. Some people cover the squash, or bake it in a dish surrounded with water so the top layer of the acorn squash does not harden. It isn’t necessary to peel the acorn squash, this can easily be accomplished after it is steamed or baked, or it can simply be served in its shell.
Acorn squash pairs well with sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In pureed form, if you really want to be decadent, you can add some butter and a bit of brown sugar for a sweet winter side dish. You should also consider acorn squash as one of the great winter squashes for vegan or vegetarian dishes. The size makes it perfect for individual stuffed portions, and it makes for a hearty meal.