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What is Buttercup Squash?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1005288 — On Jul 28, 2021

Yes, you can eat the skin. I bake it with butter all the time cut in wedges. There are lots of vitamins in the skin.

By anon966948 — On Aug 23, 2014

I live in the region of Florida that Southern Living magazine describes as the coastal south, although I am 32 miles inland from the gulf and north of Tampa Bay. Our winters are mild but we typically have a few hard freezes and nights are always below 70 degrees.

This "winter squash" does very well here and while not as prolific as its "cousin", the butternut, it is worth growing for its superior texture and flavor.

By anon276759 — On Jun 26, 2012

Cut the buttercup squash in half, but a little bit of butter in each half, cover in plastic wrap and place in microwave for about nine minutes. Fast, easy, delicious!

By anon131933 — On Dec 04, 2010

The seeds are also delicious. I steam the squash, and then boil the seeds in the same water with a bit of salt added. Cook covered until they turn a waxy gray color, then drain, and then roast in the oven on a Pyrex dish.

By anon130593 — On Nov 29, 2010

we have been using buttercup exclusively in our squash pies for years. it used to be hands down the very best for that but lately, in massachusetts, we have not been able to find the squash with its usual dark flesh. It has been getting lighter and lighter over the years, and of course, less flavorful.

We feel it may be cheaper to grow and pick and market it that way and we are looking for alternatives but have not found any. Blue hubbard, when it's right is fine, but there again, they are getting lighter at the markets also. Guess the garden is the only way to go in the future.

By anon112035 — On Sep 18, 2010

My favorite way to prepare any type of winter squash or pumpkin is just to place the whole thing in the slow cooker. No water is needed.

If you want, you can pierce it a couple times to allow steam to escape. If the whole thing doesn't fit, you can just cut it in half, or pieces. Put it in in the morning, and it's ready for dinner. No fuss!

By anon109030 — On Sep 05, 2010

I cut around core on top and clean out seeds. Add butter and brown sugar and replace cap. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees or till tender. yummy good

By anon86785 — On May 26, 2010

steam mine and eat both flesh and rind.

By anon53156 — On Nov 19, 2009

better yet way to cook butternut squash or for that matter any hard shell squash. Simply prepare as if going to bake but instead put in large pan with a couple inches of water. cover and boil until tender. much shorter cooking time and just as good. ken

By SNSmith — On Dec 13, 2008

Great idea for cooking buttercup squash without splitting! Thanks!

By anon20438 — On Oct 30, 2008

There's an even better and easier way to bake buttercup squash than splitting it in two.

Trim the stem end so that the squash will stand on the stem end without wobbling. Cut out the blossom end as if you were starting to carve a jack-o-lantern. Scoop out seeds and fibers. Dust cavity generously with salt, pepper, and ground marjoram. Put in a chunk of butter (a couple of tablespoons) and replace the "cap." Bake on an ovenproof plate or in an uncovered casserole at whatever temperature you are using for a roast, meatloaf etc. Takes about an hour if baked at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, remove "cover" and let stand a few minutes till hot liquid in cavity is re-absorbed by the squash, drawing the seasonings and butter into the flesh. To serve, simply cut in wedges. Wonderful with meatloaf and baked potatoes in wintertime. Always buy the smallest buttercup squashes--they're best.

By bananas — On Sep 18, 2008

Since buttercup squash is sweeter and creamier then other types of squash, it can be substituted for sweet potatoes when desired, or if sweet potatoes are not available.

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