As Thanksgiving gatherings go, they are a motley group: the Curcurbitaceae, a vine-growing family with nearly 1,000 members, including pumpkins, melons, zucchini and cucumbers.
Some are gourds — hard-shelled, bitter, stringy and suitable only for decoration. But the winter squashes offer countless delicious uses in soups, salads, main courses, side dishes, breads and desserts. Their shelf life, unrefrigerated, can be a few days for those with thin skins, to weeks. And don’t forget the seeds, which can be roasted for snacking and garnishing.
Here are a dozen of the varieties you’re most likely to find at the grocery or farm market:
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE This is the supermarket workhorse, sharply lobed and about the size of a large grapefruit. It’s usually dark green, though it can be streaked with gold.
HOW TO USE IT The peel is not edible; the deep gold flesh is fairly sweet. Best for stuffing and roasting, or cutting up to cook in chunks or purées.
Recipe: Acorn Squash Stuffed With Bulgur
LOOKS This everyday variety can be up to a foot long. It has a smooth, inedible light-tan skin, a distinctive fat neck and a bulbous bottom.
USES The sweet, nutty-tasting flesh is concentrated in the neck, so buy ones with large necks and small bulbs. It’s the ultimate all-purpose squash.
LOOKS A cross between the acorn and sweet dumpling varieties, this squat, small, lobed squash has an edible multicolored skin.
USES Nutty, with hints of maple, it’s excellent for roasting slices for salads or sides, or baking stuffed. Shaved thin or grated, this and many other squash can be used raw.
LOOKS This heirloom variety, native to Long Island, runs large, with a beautifully lobed pumpkin shape and a smooth but inedible tawny skin.
USES The flesh is dense, honeyed and savory — best for pie, soup or purée. Slice off a few inches of the top, carefully remove the flesh, and you have a lovely tureen for pumpkin bisque.
LOOKS Fairly small (single-serving size), oblong and lobed, it has white and green streaks on its thin, edible skin.
LOOKS This relatively new Cornell University hybrid, inspired by the chef Dan Barber of the Blue Hill restaurants, has the shape of a butternut squash, but is smaller, darker and far sweeter, with a smooth, thin, edible deep-tan skin.
USES Ideal for stuffing and roasting, and the sweetness of the flesh makes it a good choice for desserts.
Jack Be Little
LOOKS An adorable miniature, it can be orange or white, and very decorative.
USES Mild-tasting, it is excellent for stuffing. Slice the tops off, scoop out the seeds and fill with soup, a gratin or a dessert custard.
Recipe: Baby Pumpkins With Seafood
LOOKS Plump, about the size of a cantaloupe, this Japanese variety can be green or red, with a nubbly textured, edible peel. The seed cavity is big. Buttercup, which closely resembles kabocha, has a smaller cavity and drier flesh.
USES Its rich flavor evokes sweet potatoes. Both kabocha and buttercup can be sliced and roasted, used for soups and in stews, or puréed.
Recipe: Kabocha Squash Pie
LOOKS This Japanese breed has a fairly large teardrop shape, and lumpy, inedible skin that has to be peeled. The flesh is dry-textured and smooth.
USES Less sweet than earthy, with a chestnut flavor, it’s delicious for soup, or dicing in a sauté or stir-fry.
LOOKS Also known as mashed potatoes or white acorn squash, this hybrid arrived a few years ago — a sharply lobed oval, smaller than most acorn squash, and indeed white inside and out.
USES The variety mimics mashed potatoes when it’s roasted whole and, with the seeds removed, the dense flesh is scooped out and fluffed with butter and salt. Seeded halves can be baked, delectably, with cheese.
Recipe: Mashed Potatoes With Chives
LOOKS Oval and yellowish, almost football-size, it gets its name from the way its flesh forms pasta-like strings.
USES First bake or boil until tender, remove the seeds and, using a large fork, extract the flesh, keeping it stringy. The flavor is bland, suitable to reheat and toss with sauces you’d use for pasta.
LOOKS This small, lobed round specimen resembles the carnival squash but has a green-and-white color scheme.
USES The skin is thin and edible, the flesh is quite sweet — perfect for stuffing, or slicing and baking.