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Spaghetti squash is a good source of nutrition

Spaghetti squash is in the process of being cooked and scraped for a wholesome meal. John Zvirovski / The Sun

The autumn season has arrived and along with that season is a large bounty of food from the garden before the first killing frost comes along. Items such as carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and squash are some of the biggest producers. As we all know, pumpkins are used for pie making, breads or Halloween decorations. The carrots and potatoes are stored for winter use along with the wonderful varieties of squash.

The squash you get during the summer season, such as zucchini, is called summer squash and does not store well for the winter season due to its soft skin. The squash that is harvested during this time of year is called winter squash and usually has a hard outer layer that allows it to preserve in the right conditions for many months to come. My favorite is the buttercup squash, but my second favorite and most unique is the spaghetti squash.

The spaghetti squash is very much like other squash varieties, as it has a hard shell and when split open it has a center of seeds and a solid layer of flesh that is dark yellow to orange. However, once this squash is cooked, the flesh flakes out in strands resembling spaghetti. This result allows it to be a wonderful substitute for those who have a gluten intolerance or for those looking for a much lighter load in calories. It is also a great pasta substitute if you happen to be a diabetic and are watching your carbohydrate intake. It is wonderful with a flavorful sauce or just eaten alone. I always say, the limitations of this squash are at the hands of the person cooking with it.

Spaghetti squash is fairly easy to grow once the ground is warm. They prefer a full sunlight area that is high in organic matter or rich in compost. Like any squash they like a well-drained soil that receives about 1 to 2 inches of water a week while actively growing. The vines produce male and female flowers on the same vine with the male flowers on long slender stems and the female flowers on shorter stems that have a round ball at the base which will become the fruit once pollinated. These fruits take 90 days to reach full maturity.

Once the fruits have reached maturity, the act of figuring out if they are ripe enough to pick comes into play. Typically the vines will die once the fruit is ripe and the fruit themselves will turn a deep yellow to orange color with a very hard shell that is difficult to get your finger nail through. Typically this happens before frost depending on the season. If we get an early frost and the fruit is not fully ripened, simply cut the fruit from the vine leaving at least two inches of the vine attached. Next, lay your fruit in a sunny location until full ripening occurs.

Once your fruit is completely ripened, they can be stored in a cool and dry location that is between 50 and 55 degrees. Do not store any squash that has soft skin or any soft spots on the shell as these will begin to decay and mold quickly. I would suggest these fruits be cooked and eaten or frozen for later consumption.

Spaghetti squash is rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin A, niacin, iron and beta carotenes, creating a great source of nutrition. So if you are looking for a good food choice for dinner during this fall season, try one of the many wonderful recipes available for using this type of squash. It is sure nice to have something new and delicious to tempt your tummy when the chill hits the air.

Give it a try this season and if you find this is something you really enjoy, then put it on your list for something to plant in the garden next season. Enjoy the bounty of autumn, and get out and enjoy the days also, as they are becoming shorter very quickly.