The Simplest Way to Cook Winter Squash (or Pumpkin)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on October 10, 2013

cooked winter squash

My love of detail has often made me a person who makes things more complicated than they need to be. I first learned this about myself at age 14 during a Summer Theater Workshop. We each had to pantomime an activity and the rest of the workshop would have to guess what we were doing. I carefully went about getting myself a glass from the cupboard, opening a bottle and pouring myself a soda. No one, absolutely no one had a clue what I was doing. The instructor told me I was making too many little motions that were not precise enough for people to recognize. Once I got over my embarrassment and realized what I must have looked like to the rest of the group, it kind of struck me funny.

This same tendency to unnecessarily complicate things has often followed me into the kitchen without me being aware of it. Many years ago a dear friend of mine from high school came up to spend Thanksgiving with us. (He has lived in big cities all his life and traveled the world, so he very carefully told me over the phone, “I’ll be coming through Gate 1 at the airport.” “Okay,” I said, not having the heart to tell him there are only two gates at the Moscow Pullman Airport. Maybe expecting complication is a natural function of urban living I’ve never outgrown either.) I had also invited a returning student of mine, we’ll call her Terry, who was about our same age. I decided I wanted to make my pumpkin pie filling from scratch, so I carefully gutted the pumpkin, cut it up and cooked it–or something equally laborious. As we were enjoying our pie, the talk turned to the process of making it with a fresh pumpkin. I mentioned something about how much time it took. Terry looked at me and said, “Really? I always just stab it a bunch of times with a knife, put it on a cookie sheet and bake it whole. It cuts up really easy. And then I scoop out all the goop.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. But at least I learned there is an easy way to cook a pumpkin.

I’ve always loved winter squash, any kind with very hard skin, ever since I was a little girl. You’d think once I had learned Terry’s technique, I would have easily transferred that over to squash. But I had to be reminded again. I was at the bank and the teller and I were talking about how much we like spaghetti squash. “It’s kind of hard to cook, though, ” I said. (Even cutting big hard skinned squash in half can be a somewhat perilous activity for me, especially when my hands are tired and things start flying out of them.) I had read some lengthy instructions about cutting it in half, gutting out the seeds, and then rubbing it with garlic, olive oil, etc. The final complication involved covering it straight out of the oven and putting in the fridge for 20 minutes in order to facilitate perfect separation from the skin.  The teller looked at me like I had said something that didn’t quite make sense. Very politely, she said, “Really? I just stab it with a knife, put it on a cookie sheet, bake it in the oven, and cut it open afterwards. Easy. ” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled. Once again, I was chastened to the point of hilarity. Thank goodness I love a good laugh at myself.

My absolute favorite hard skinned squash for pie or anything else is something we call bitterroot buttercup up here. My friend Jody isn’t as big a fan as I am, so she gave me the first one from her garden. Luckily, by this time I had learned my lesson and then some.  My favorite part of cooking a squash like this is standing at the stove and eating it right out of the skin. I usually only allow myself a little of that because the ” real” reason for cooking the squash is to add to soup or puree it into pie filling. So scraping the skin becomes like “licking the bowl” after mixing up a cake or cookies. But this time I decided not only would I just stab the squash and bake it, but that I would not turn it into soup or pie filling or pudding or anything else. I would just scoop it out, put it in a big dish, and add it to my simple meals all week, so I could continue to eat it the way I like it the best. Baked simply in its own skin.

So without any  further complications or apologies for no recipe for pie filling or soup, here is the way I cook my winter squash (or pumpkin). I forgot to take a picture of the squash before I did this, but I think that’s just as well. Because it doesn’t matter what kind it is. You can do this with any hard skinned winter squash or pumpkin.


Maria (moonwatcher)



Leave a Comment

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristin October 10, 2013 at 9:16 am

I love the Moscow-Pullman airport! Do they still have the greeter cat? I love winter squash, too. Thanks for this. I always think of it as a big pain/production, and this is a wonderful reminder it doesn’t need to be at all.


2 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

Thanks, Kristin, you made me giggle. . you know, I haven’t been there in a very long time. . I don’t know if they still have the greeter cat!! Good question. 🙂 And I also smiled to read how you always think of cooking squash as a big pain/production. It’s nice to remember it doesn’t have to be that way, isn’t it?


3 Veronica October 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

I’ve never been a fan of pumpkins, or squashes. But I’m trying to! And this is posted in perfect timing – my CSA is delivering a pie pumpkin, a red kuri squash, and butternut squash this afternoon. I was going to go the difficult way of cooking it all, but I shall try this! I like easy better than hard. 😉


4 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Veronica, sounds like you have a really cool CSA going. I hope the “easy” way helps you develop more of a taste for squash. Once you cook it this way it can be frozen, too, or pureed further for pie, etc. Or not. 🙂 Here’s to easy being better than hard!!


5 Jennifer Satter October 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm

lol! Thank you for sharing. My mom was a terrible cook and the only fresh vegtables she made were potatoes. They were either mashed, baked, or boiled. I’ve had to learn to cook all by myself. I did not know about cooking the squash first. You just really made my life a lot easier!


6 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Welcome, Jennifer! thanks for your comment. Glad I made you laugh. And glad I made your life a lot easier!


7 Susan October 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I am a squash-cooking novice and will have to try this. I live in a warmer part of the country where running the oven for an hour really heats up the house (except for, say, January and February). So I’m wondering if this technique would work with the microwave.


8 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Welcome, Susan! Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a microwave so I’m not sure, but I do know it works in a slow cooker. It just takes several hours, but is very easy and won’t heat up the house like having the oven on does. So if you have a slow cooker, maybe you could try that. Perhaps a search on the internet would reveal how this might work in a microwave. Or if others commenting know, please chime in. 🙂


9 Caroline harris October 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Stab the squash with a knife then put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes then take it out and cool. This way you will be able to remove the skin easier then you can steam it.


10 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for the microwave tip, Caroline!


11 Kiwi Fan October 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Dear Maria, I’ve been meaning to congratulate you on your Blog Anniversary – you have inspired us for a whole year! Thank you. I love pumpkins any way they’re cooked and we’re lucky we get one delivered in our Organic Veggie Box each week. As I can’t prepare it these days, my husband will be thrilled there’s an easy way!! As our Spring weather is soon going to turn cold and nasty – again – I’ll just go and grab a delicious pumpkin soup out of the freezer, one made by one of my clever sons when he visited last. Also, I love your new look and your artwork. You ARE a talentd lady! Blessings from Downunder xx


12 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Dear Kiwi Fan, Thank you for your warm congratulations on a year of blogging and the blog’s new look. I’m so glad this will make it easy for you and your husband to enjoy squash again. I know what you mean about those Spring days that turn the season’s clock back. Enjoy your pumpkin soup and stay cozy. 🙂


13 Donna October 10, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Ha Ha, I’m the one laughing now, at myself. I’m 65, with severe rheumatoid arthritis, especially in my deformed hands, and up until now, I always cut my squash and pumpkins in half and baked them in the oven. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. This easy method will be so helpful for me now and in the future. I love reading your blog Maria, you’ve been so helpful to me with so many things you have written about (The spirilizer with my bad hands was my best investment ever!), you are so inspiring with all you have going on in your life. I started Dr. Fuhrman’s diet this past December, after suffering with RA since I was 24. At the time, I was on prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and two chemo drugs, methotrexate weekly and two, four hour infusions of Rituxan every six months. Two months into his diet, I was off all my medications. I feel like I have been reborn, with so much energy.


14 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Welcome, Donna, thanks for this wonderful comment, and for sharing your fantastic improvements since you went plant-based Dr. Fuhrman style–I am so happy for you!! And really glad I made you laugh at yourself–I laughed at us too, all over again, reading what you wrote and identifying with it. So happy, too, that you love reading my blog. You made my evening!! 🙂 Keep on with your wonderful healing journey.


15 Donna October 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I’ve been along on your ride for awhile now Maria, just never write comments. You’ve been a real motivation and inspiration for me since I first read your blog and life story. It’s not an easy diet to switch to when everyone around you is eating differently. Reading how plant based foods has helped you and feeling as good as I do now has kept me on track. Most people want to lose weight, that wasn’t my problem, I weigh 114 lbs. You were the first blog, from someone who had similar medical conditions like mine, who plant based foods helped. I thought I was a healthy eater before, no sugar and only ate salmon, fruits and vegetables, with occasional pasta and pizza but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, continued success with your healing as we continue on our journeys together. Looking forward to many more of your writings and magnificent art work..
Donna in PA


16 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Thanks so much, Donna, for this lovely comment. It means a lot to me to know that my blog has been a motivation and inspiration for you. I can relate to what you say about how you used to eat and how you thought it was healthy. That’s pretty much the way I used to eat, too, and everyone was always telling me I was the healthiest eater they knew. Apparently not healthy enough, though!! So yes, continued success to both of us on this journey together–so happy you enjoy the writings and the artwork!!


17 Marigold October 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm

A lovely way to cook squash without the bother. I have found that it doesn’t work with delicata, though. By the time I got the seeds scraped out, there was nothing left of the squash. Good chicken food!


18 Marigold October 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

(My chickens are pets, not for eating.)


19 moonwatcher October 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Welcome, Marigold! It’s lovely you have chickens as pets. 🙂 I agree with you about the delicata. In fact, I don’t consider it a hard skinned squash at all. The skin is thin you can peel it with a carrot peeler and it’s actually edible. Best to cut those in half and take the seeds out. They make nice “boats” for veggies and rice, etc. Or perfect for lucky chickens!! 🙂


20 Ruth October 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

I don’t complicate my self, i put my punking or any squash in the microwave oven
i t take fron 10 to 20 minutus all depend on sise


21 moonwatcher October 11, 2013 at 8:04 am

Thanks, Ruth, and welcome! Appreciate your tip about the microwave. I don’t own one, but others here reading along who do will want to know.


22 Tami@Nutmeg Notebook October 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

I love the simple pleasure of oven roasted squash. It need not be fancy or complicated to be delicious.


23 moonwatcher October 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

Thanks Tami! Yes, oven roasted. . Me too. 🙂


24 Lee at Veggie Quest October 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

Hi Maria–this is genius! My husband and I love winter squash (especially butternut and pumpkin), and this has to be the easiest cooking method of all time. Can’t wait to try it!


25 moonwatcher October 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Lee! Yes, it pretty much is. 🙂 So glad you want to give it a try. 🙂


26 Sally October 12, 2013 at 9:32 am

Maria – agree about you being an inspiration. On your little fruit cobbler with the long name, I kept thinking “free world” and smiling. We have choices about how we view everything including those things over which we have no other control. 🙂 A different way of eating is a challenge but the benefits are large. My list of “free” is also pretty long but I am starting to have a “bring it on” attitude.


27 moonwatcher October 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Thanks so much Sally! Free World indeed! As you may know,I actually have a post from last Fall called Pumpkin Pie in the Free World with my recipe for pumpkin pie, so your comment made me smile all the more. I am happy to hear you are cultivating a “bring it on” attitude. And I completely agree with you that while eating a different way is a challenge, the benefits are large. All the best to you.


28 Ellen December 8, 2013 at 6:49 pm

As I already told you, I had the same laugh at myself. You told me how to cook a squash, I did it successfully, then I forgot about it. You very kindly reminded me about how to cook it. LOL

Loved the article!


29 moonwatcher December 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Thanks Ellen–LOL right back with you!!


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