The world always seems to be in a hurry, but butternut squash does not rush the gardener along. Like all winter squashes, butternut squash ripens on the vine, and it takes weeks — not days — for the fruits to mature. While you’re scrambling to pick tomatoes and zucchini, butternut squash fruits sit tight, waiting for their season. They’re worth the wait.
Butternuts are perhaps the tastiest of the winter squashes. ‘Waltham’, winner of an All-America Selections award in 1970, is still one of the top varieties. It grows on ambitious vines that scramble up to 10 feet. Tendrils on the vines will twist easily around a tomato cage, but if you grow them on a trellis the fruit itself may need support. ‘Waltham’ produces six or more large squashes on each plant. Some gardeners, especially in cool climates, snip off the tips of vines after fruit has set, to encourage the squash to ripen. In warm climates with a long growing season, allow the vines to keep growing and you’ll have more fruit.
‘Butterbush’ is a compact butternut squash plant for small-space gardeners; the vines grow only to about three feet long, and the fruit matures a little faster than ‘Waltham’. ‘Autumn Glow’ has four-foot vines and has earned a reputation as the prettiest butternut squash because the leaves are variegated — green with splashes of yellow — and the fruit is golden yellow.
The fruit is usually quite pale, sometimes with faint green stripes. Inside, they’re bright orange. Harvest before a hard frost. Mature butternut squash have hard skin: if you can pierce the skin with your thumbnail, give them a little more time to ripen. When they’re mature, cut them off the vine with about two inches of stem at the top, and allow them to cure for about 10 days in a warm spot. Curing makes the fruit sweeter and also improves the storage ability of butternut squash. They’ll keep for months on the kitchen counter, but they’re so good, you’ll probably eat them before you know for sure.