Odd Facts About Butternut Squash



I LOVE butternut squash! It's easy to grow and lasts long into the winter. I went a little overboard last year and grew just shy of 100 butternut squash - they're not hard to grow! My poor wheelbarrow wheels were buckling under the weight.

Considering that I am really the only person in the family that eats butternut squash, this was a real problem. I gave some to a few family and friends, but I vowed to plant less the following year, which I did. 

Butternut squash garden patch.

My butternut squash garden patch yielding almost 100 squash! Some leaves are whitish or speckled with white spots, indicating the presence of mildew spores.

Substituting butternut squash for pumpkin

Even though I am the only person that adores butternut squash at my house, I have other options to entice the rest of the family. One of them is substituting butternut squash for pumpkin in pies and desserts. When pumpkin pie spices are added to butternut squash (cinnamon and nutmeg), it mimics the same pumpkin pie taste.

Butternut squash are easier to clean after baking because they are not stringy like pumpkins. I also feel that they bake up nicer, meaning that it has a smoother consistency than pumpkin. In my experience, butternut squash is the closet squash to a pumpkin.

I have never had canned squash so I can't honestly say how that works for a substitute for pumpkin in a can. My butternut squash comes fresh from the garden. Once you try substituting a squash for pumpkin, you may never go back!

Note: some people are allergic to butternut squash. Make sure you inform anyone of a substitution before presenting an imposter dish!

Favorite ways to cook butternut squash

Most of my life, I have eaten butternut squash mashed. I split open the squash, scoop out the seeds, and then place the squash face down on a pan. I bake the squash at 425° for an hour. I always keep a healthy dose of water in the pan (about 1/2"), it seems to "steam" the squash, making it softer.

HACK: I recently started adding water to the pan while it was in the oven with a plant watering can. It's difficult to transfer a pan with water to the oven. This hack works great, and it's super easy to add water to the pan if it starts to run dry.

After baking, I scoop out the soft flesh, and eat it with a dab of butter and brown sugar, yum! For a really creamy presentation, I'll get out the beaters and beat it before serving, but it isn't really necessary. The squash is usually so soft, just a whipping of a fork will do.

As long as I am cranking up the oven, I'll bake 2 pans and freeze the leftovers. I'll pack a generous heaping portion of squash into my sack lunch for work. Mashed butternut squash makes the best baby food. Talk about eating cheap!

In recent years, I've discovered the convenience of using an air fryer for roasting vegetables. Here is my second favorite way to eat butternut squash:

Holiday Air Fryer Roasted Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

  • cubed butternut squash
  • cubed root vegetables of choice like rutabagas or turnips

Toss with olive oil and sea salt, air fry until tender and crisp. It takes about 45060 minutes on high. Before serving, toss with maple syrup, dried cranberries, pecans and air fry for a few more minutes.

I've had many people rave about this recipe, and it's so easy!

Baking butternut squash in oven hack.

Baking butternut squash in oven hack.

Handling butternut squash

I've never had an issue handling butternut squash. That's probably because I cut it in two, roast it, and that's it. It seems the folks who go one step further and peel and cut it up get orange, grimey hands and maybe even a skin reaction (see below).

My best advice is to wear plastic gloves. The meat of the squash can leave a sticky residue on hands. This film may prove difficult to remove.

Some advice recommended by others to remove the sticky film:

  • remove with watered-down rubbing alcohol
  • use hand sanitizer
Using hand sanitizer to remove film left on skin from butternut squash.

Using hand sanitizer to remove film left on skin from butternut squash.

It's the moisture that "wicks" from the squash that appears to cause some people to experience red, itchy hands.

"Weeping" of butternut squash after cutting.

"Weeping" of butternut squash after cutting, the fruit's way of mending wounds to the surface skin.

Growing butternut squash

Butternut squash are one of the easiest crops for a beginner to grow. Do know that any type of gourd depletes the nitrogen from the soil. You will want to follow it up with a crop of beans the following year that can add nitrogen back in, or add some natural fertilizer at the end of the season.

Squash, like pumpkins, really spread out over the soil. I cut back this year to just two hills of squash, and it still spread far. Some people train squash to grow up trellises in small gardens that are short of space. 

Powdery mildew on squash

You may have noticed on the very top picture of this article, that some of the leaves appear white in my garden. These white spots (or dots) or hazy leaves are the presence of mold on the squash leaves, a fairly common problem with squash.

This powdery mildew, a fungus, only lives on the surface of the leaf. It spreads pretty easily to the other leaves because of the mold spores which are easily carried by wind. I don't treat my squash for this and seem to do fine, but there are smart things I could have done better, like not overcrowd the plants and not plant in a shady spot (guilty of both!).

I'm no expert on this, so I will direct you over to the Savvy Gardening site where you can get more details and learn of natural ways to fight mildew on butternut squash.

Harvesting and best way to store butternut squash

A good friend shared with me that when you harvest squash, you should always leave a long stem on it, like 6"-8" long. She said that the squash will last longer in storage. I've been leaving long stems on ever since.

I lack a good root cellar, so it is hard to tell how effective this strategy is. The Provident Prepper has more good butternut squash storage tips. They shared that their friends wash off each squash with a weak bleach solution and allowed to dry completely.

"The squash is stored on ventilated shelves and are not allowed to touch each other. Butternut stores longer in the upright position. They keep the window cracked and cover the heat vent [unused basement bathroom]. The winter squash will store for well over a year when stored this way."

These tips together should assure butternut squash storage well into the spring. Root vegetables are the easiest thing to harvest (if you have a root cellar). There is no canning, just put it in a cool, dark place. The ideal storage requirements of winter squash are 50° in a dark room. 

Saving seeds from butternut squash

Yes! Seeds can be saved from butternut squash. It's a great way to take an active effort in your personal food supply. Supermarket squash are usually raised from hybrid seed, so the chances of saving and growing it successfully in your own garden are highly unlikely. If you buy squash from a farmer's market, they may not have used hybrid seed and there is chance you can save seed back for your own garden.

Or be like me - I buy heirloom seeds that are sold with the sole intent of saving seed back. I simply wash the seeds off from the pulp removed from a ripe butternut squash, and put them on a  paper towel to dry. I don't even bother pulling them off the paper towel later. I just pop it into an envelope and mark the year and what it is. Come spring time, just plant 3-5 seeds per hill in a hole in the ground.

You'll be well on your way to your own 100 butternut squash!

Reactions to butternut squash

It is possible to have a butternut squash allergy. People report after peeling and cutting up butternut squash they experience hives and rashes on the body. For some people, it can manifest simply by rubbing up against leaves, or eating it. Butternut squash was pretty much banned in my husband's family because my mother-in-law was allergic to it (hives erupted). 

Some people report a very uncomfortable feeling described as a burning of the hands and skin peeling when coming into the contact of the flesh of a butternut squash (what a scary thought!). In addition to skin peeling, the hand may feel numb, swell, and have diminished sensitivity.

I had truly never experienced this, so I cut one of my fall squash open (see photo above). I rubbed the back of my hand on it. The slight feeling of maybe a burning sensation was present, but not really. I left it on my hand for about one hour, with no side affects.

I did a little more digging and found an explanation for this. According to Southern Living, "the sap is more potent if the squash is young, so you might not encounter this unpleasant feeling if you are peeling a squash that has fully ripened." That might explain why in my entire life, I've never had an issue with the fruit.

Testing unripe butternut squash rubbed onto skin.

Testing unripe butternut squash rubbed onto skin - result is tight skin from dried residue from squash.

I decided to try out a test with an unripe butternut squash. The result was sort of letting an egg white dry on the skin. I washed it off with water, but there were still bits remaining. I followed up with hand sanitizer. I was surprised that it was a little stubborn to come off.

I luckily did not experience any burning or peeling skin. I believe that the poor few that do react must have some type of allergy to butternut squash.

The real peeling skin explanation

The Garden Blog comments on the residue on the hands. "[It] is not a residue, or glue, peeling off your skin. Many places attributed this to the sap drying over your skin like some sort of liquid latex, and then peeling off. Your skin is peeling, not a residue, that stuff cracking and falling off is skin. That is why underneath it gets pink, because it is new skin."

The fact is that the squash excretes a sticky substance to protect itself, it's the same substances that helps a squash "self-heal" an open surface wound, like a scab. My experience was that it was indeed a film or residue left on my skin, with no painful side effects. 

When others touched it, they experienced an injury to their skin. In those cases, a doctor may prescribe a topical steroid for more serious outbreaks.

Other health concerns

Butternut squash is packed with fiber. It goes without saying that it is going to cause loose stools. Butternut squash is not necessarily "prescribed" as a laxative, but it does get the bowels moving. Therefore, butternut squash is good for constipation.

If you're worried about diarrhea, don't be. You would have to eat a large quantity of butternut squash to result in that. Eaten in moderation, butternut squash is a safe food to eat and should not cause stomach problems.   

Toxic Squash Syndrome

On a more concerning note, toxic squash syndrome is a more serious sickness. According to Metro,
"Toxic squash syndrome occurs when a person eats something from the gourd fruit and vegetable family that contains unusually high levels of cucurbitacins... Cucurbitacins are bitter-tasting compounds that can be poisonous to humans."

I don't know anything about toxic squash syndrome. It has something to do with accidental cross-pollination of crops that has the potential to cause illnesses when eaten. Know that there will be stomach upset with this, so be vigilant. Diarrhea is on the list of symptoms for this sickness.  Check the Metro, site for a list of symptoms.

In conclusion

As I mentioned before, butternut squash is easy to plant, grow, and harvest. It can be cooked up and frozen in the freezer for very budget-friendly meals. Consider adding butternut squash to your next garden!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is an Iowa farmwife with a background as a former kitchen designer. Supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life. Read more about this farmwife on her about page.

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