Buttercup squash is a winter squash belonging to the family Cucurbitaceae. Not to be confused with its cousin, the butternut squash, the squat green buttercup takes its name from its shape, which some say resembles an upside-down acorn with an undersized cap.
The average squash of this type is about 7 inches (17.5 centimeters) in diameter and weighs approximately 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms), though some individual specimens may grow to be over 5 pounds (2.7 kilograms).
The inedible rind is dark green, striated with silvery gray lines. In some cultivars, a cap of paler green sits atop the squash at the blossom end. The buttercup’s dense flesh is dark yellow-orange, sometimes approaching a deeper reddish color. It is worth noting that the more intense the color, the more vitamin A the squash contains.
The flavor of the buttercup squash’s flesh is sweet and nutty, with a creamy consistency more in line with that of a baked sweet potato than a pumpkin, which tends to be more fibrous and watery by comparison. The flesh can tend toward dryness, a flaw that is easily compensated for by cooking method. Steaming and baking are preferred methods of preparation, as both will bring out the sweetness of and add moistness to the flesh.
As a dark yellow-orange vegetable, buttercup squash is a powerhouse of nutrients. A0.5 cup (100 gram) serving contains fewer than 50 calories and little if any fat, but it is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It also provides protein and fiber.
Buttercup squash is not hard to cultivate in the home garden. It prefers rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Pests such as bugs and vine borers can pose a serious threat and must be managed to ensure a successful crop. Adult bugs and egg clusters can be handpicked from the plants, and insecticides may be judiciously applied. As with other winter squash, the fruit should be allowed to mature on the vine, and it is considered ripe when the skin has a matte appearance and is too hard to be easily pierced with a fingernail. Gardeners should leave a 1 to 2 inch (2.5 to 5 centimeter) stub of stem when cutting from the vine to provide for longer storage. Cut squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months.
When purchasing a buttercup squash, shoppers should select one that feels heavy for its size, is free from soft spots and blemishes, and has a rind that is deeply colored. Any squash that has soft, wrinkled, or moldy spots should be avoided. Once cut, it may be stored in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator for three or four days. Cooked squash can be frozen for up to three months in a tightly sealed container.
Peeling the squash is difficult but, happily, avoidable. It can be cooked without peeling by simply washing the squash well, rinsing it, and patting it dry. The cook should split the squash in half lengthwise, through the stem, and using a large spoon, scrape out the seeds and the stringy pulp from the seed cavity. He should pour about 0.5 cup (120 ml) of water into a baking dish with sides then lay the squash halves, cut-side down, in the dish. They should be baked at 375°F (190°C) for about 30 minutes or until tender.
To serve, cooks can top the halves with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, drizzle with maple syrup, or season with salt and pepper. The cavities of the baked squash may also be stuffed. To use the flesh in soups, muffins, pies, or to serve as a puree on its own, a chef can simply scoop out of the rind using a spoon. Pureed baked buttercup squash can be used as a substitute for mashed sweet potato in many recipes.