As one of the most versatile winter squashes, acorn squash is an excellent addition to any garden. Bake it with butter and brown sugar for a sweet treat, or stuff it with apples, sausages, and mushrooms for something savory. But however you decide to experiment in the kitchen, the first thing you need to know is when to pick acorn squash.
In the same way that there are tricks to selecting the best produce at the grocery store, there are some signs to look for in the garden that will let you know your acorn squash plant is ripe. Things like skin texture, color, and time of year can all be indicators telling you your squash is ripe.
I don’t think you can treat your acorn squash like any other winter squash. If you try to cure your winter squash like butternut squash or spaghetti squash, you will probably end up with a soft, rotten squash. But, when you harvest acorn squash correctly and follow the correct curing and storing steps outlined below, you can enjoy acorn squash all year long—giving yourself plenty of opportunities to try out acorn squash soups, salad dressings, desserts, side dishes, and main courses.
How Can You Tell When Acorn Squash Is Ready To Pick?
Of course, harvest time for acorn squash varies depending on your selected variety. Most acorn squash varieties ripen 80-100 days after they have been planted. You can get a more specific date if you look at the “days to full maturity” or “days to harvest” on your seed packets. However, you want to harvest your winter squash before the first heavy frost because they are frost sensitive, so estimate to harvest acorn squash around September or October.
The plant itself will start to change appearance as well at harvest time. Don’t pay too much attention to size when harvesting acorn squash. Unripe acorn squash reach full size pretty early in the season. Acorn squash is typically green with a pale yellow spot where the squash is facing the ground. On a ripe acorn squash, that spot has turned from yellow to a deep orange color and is ready to be picked. If the whole squash is orange, you have waited too long, and the squash has become over-ripened. If you have selected an acorn squash plant that turns entirely orange when ripe, disregard this. If this is the case, it should specify on your seed package. The acorn squash vines and stem will have also turned slightly brown and dried up when the squash is ripe.
Ripe acorn squash has also changed skin texture. Acorn squash is ripe when it has developed tough skin. The easiest way to test if your acorn squash is ripe is to gently press your fingernail into the skin of the squash, and if the squash has soft skin and penetrates easily, you still have an immature acorn squash. If your fingernail can only scratch the rind, or you have to press hard to break it, it’s time for you to harvest acorn squash!
How To Harvest Acorn Squash
When harvesting acorn squash, you will need a sharp knife or clippers. You can try breaking it off of the vine, but we recommend cutting the ripe acorn squash free to make sure you don’t damage the stem. Whatever you do, do not yank the acorn squash from the vines; this can damage unripe squash you haven’t harvested yet. While twisting it free will work for summer squash varieties, it’s essential to harvest acorn squash in a way that does not damage the stem to make sure it’s still able to produce, and in a way that keeps a small section of stem attached to the ripe squash.
When making your cut, you want to leave at least an inch of the stem on your ripe acorn squash. You can leave up to five inches if you want; just make sure it’s somewhere in that range. Leaving a bit of stem helps the acorn squash lock in moisture, and failure to do can damage your fruit and even cause early decay.
Curing Acorn Squash
We first need to sort through them before we can cure our ripe acorn squash. Any acorn squashes with soft spots or signs of damage on the rind need to be eaten immediately because they will not preserve for longer periods like the others.
Like other winter squashes, acorn squash needs to be cured in a cool, dry place. Although your acorn squash is ripe and has developed tough skin, do not stack winter squash on top of each other. Doing so could create soft spots and ruin your squash fruit texture. Ripe acorn squash will not keep if cured improperly, and rot can spread if they have been stacked. Instead, place them in rows or layers. Cure acorn squash where the temperature is between 50-55 degrees, any more or less could damage the squash. Rotate the squash a quarter each day for two weeks to ensure the stem has dried thoroughly, and the rind has developed a tough skin.
How To Store Acorn Squash
Similar to the curing process, do not stack your acorn squash. If that isn’t possible, only stack acorn squash two squash deep after they have been cured. Acorn squash fruit will keep in dry areas for 1-2 months with 50-55 degree temperatures.
If you want to store acorn squash for longer than a couple of months, freezing it is the best way to preserve it. For frozen acorn squash to last up to 12 months, it must be cooked beforehand. First, cut both ends off your acorn squash, then remove the seeds and soft fibrous flesh in the center. Cut the fruit away from the skin and cube it. Then you can cook your acorn squash however you like, whether that be steamed, baked, boiled, or in a pressure cooker. Once the acorn squash fruit texture has softened up a little bit, there are a few ways to store it. If you want to keep the squash cubed, you can place it on a cooking tray and freeze it. Once frozen, store the acorn squash fruit in an air-tight freezer-safe bag or container and enjoy for up to 12 months. Acorn squash can also be mashed or pureed before storing and last just as long.
Cooked and then refrigerated acorn squash will last about four days before going bad.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can you tell if acorn squash is good?
A: It’s time to harvest acorn squash when the skin is dull and firm. The acorn squash plant is ripe when the yellow spot on your squash should be turning orange, and the stem should be brown and starting to dry up. A glossy skin means you have immature acorn squash, and a mostly orange acorn squash usually means it has been on the vine too long. The best way to tell if you should be harvesting acorn squash is to do the fingernail test to see how firm the skin is.
Q: Will acorn squash ripen off the vine?
A: Yes! It should be mostly ripened when you harvest it, but it will continue to ripen off the vine. Make sure to leave 1-5 inches of the stem attached to lock in moisture and protect your acorn squash.
Q: Can you eat unripe acorn squash?
A: Yes. It is perfectly safe to eat acorn squash that isn’t quite ripe yet. Immature acorn squash will not store though, so you have to eat it within a couple of days of picking it.