Small (But Mighty) Wonder

I’m guessing spaghetti squash is an oddity for most people, something they see at the grocery store and wonder how it can be cooked and eaten. And even in the garden it is somewhat of an oddity that many gardeners are not familiar with. That’s a shame, because I have found them easy to grow, if somewhat rambling. There are bush varieties available (Tivoli is one), though most varieties have long vines and require a fair amount of space.

Botanically it is a winter squash (Cucurbita pepo).  But in the kitchen I think it tastes more like a summer squash. And nutritionally they are more like summer squash, being more watery and less starchy than say a butternut or acorn squash. But then they also have a hard rind and keep much like a winter squash. Confused yet? It’s no wonder they get little respect – they have an identity crisis!

Spaghetti squash gets its name because of its stringy flesh, which can be separated after cooking into long strands that resemble spaghetti pasta. Many people like to use it as a pasta substitute, since it is much lower in calories. One cup of plain cooked spaghetti squash has around 40 calories, with 2 grams of fiber, 1g of protein, and negligible fat. Compare that with the 200 calories found in one cup of cooked spaghetti pasta and you can see why the squash is a dieter’s delight.

Most of the varieties of spaghetti squash, and the ones I usually see in the grocery, are quite large and often weigh in at 3-4 pounds. But a few years ago I tried a variety called Small Wonder that promised smaller, 1-1/2 to 2 pound squashes, and I’ve been growing it ever since. The smaller size suits our household much better than the larger ones. The name is misleading however. While the squashes themselves might be smaller than the standard type, there are LOTS OF THEM! And in my garden, the vines meander all over the place.

I planted 2 seedlings in one “hill” in early May, and about 2 months later I had the first ripe squash. Since I started the seeds indoors, I got about a 3 week jump on the usual 75-80 day maturity of this variety. And this year I planted them on the edge of the garden, where they could vine up the deer fencing if they liked. At least that was my plan. The squash had a plan of their own however!

I’ve been finding the squash all over the place. The one below is over by the caged tomatoes, 15 feet away from the start of the vine.

This pair was hanging out two rows over, with the summer squash. I told you they had an identity crisis!

This one escaped the boundaries of the garden and is growing in the no-mans-land between the plastic deer fencing and the metal fencing that keeps out rabbits and other gnawing pests.

This green one escaped also.

And the vines aren’t through producing yet. Here’s a female blossom that will open in a day or two.

Ack! Here’s another potential spaghetti squash. They’re taking over! At least this vine got the memo about climbing on the fencing.

The 15 squash in the photo below weighed around 24 pounds, with an average weight of 1.6 pounds. The smallest weighed just over 1 pound and the largest was 2.1 pounds. There are at least 6 more out in the garden that aren’t quite ready to pick yet. They could add another 10 pounds or so to the total yield.

That’s a pretty good deal from a packet of seeds that cost $2.45 in 2008 and has given us three years of wonderful spaghetti squash!

There are a lot of good recipes around for these squash, but we usually do a fairly simple treatment when serving them. One way we like to cook them is to cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then add a little water and bake cut side down, covered, in a baking dish for about 50-60 minutes at 375F. When tender I add a little butter, honey and minced ginger, and return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes. Then I fluff up the strands with a fork, scoop out the flesh and serve.

baked spaghetti squash

It’s also nice cooked plain then tossed with a little pesto sauce. The squash can also be microwaved, baked, or boiled. However you cook them, spaghetti squash are an interesting and tasty addition to your kitchen repertoire. Give them a try sometime, or better yet, try growing them in your garden.

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19 Responses to Small (But Mighty) Wonder

  1. Robin says:

    I just love spaghetti squash and have been growing it since I moved here. I only plant three plants at the end of my herb garden along the fence. They climb up the fence and grow to about 15′ long. They are also easy to store. I just stick them in a basket and put them in the basement. They usually stay good all winter.

    Did you ever notice how exspensive they are in the store? The last time I looked, they were about $6-7 each…and they weren’t organic!

  2. Mike says:

    Nice squash, they are my wife’s favorite. For years and years I thought of them as a summer squash until we started storing them…we still have three left over from last fall that are in perfect shape, we ate one the other night and it tasted just fine. Now I just consider them an all around great squash.

  3. meemsnyc says:

    My in-laws grow spaghetti squash, and I have to say, it’s not one of my favorites. It’s a texture thing for me. I don’t like the stringiness of the flesh. I love other squashes, like acorn and butternut, but spaghetti has never grown on me.

  4. Lexa says:

    Great post. Thanks for the info on the variety that produces small ones. That would be great. Another good recipe, when you aren’t counting calories, is to use the spaghetti squash inplace of potatoes in a cheesy gratin. Winter comfort food!

  5. I like the idea of smaller squash, but it looks like parts of your garden could still get squished with those squash vines! I’m impressed with how prolific they are though. Spaghetti squash does make a great pasta substitute, but sometimes the larger ones are just too big. I’ll have to look out for this smaller variety.

  6. I am very impressed with your squash vines! I thought I had the queens of sprawl in my butternut patch, but I think you win that prize hands down. I do love all sorts of squash, and the news that there is a healthy prolific small variety of this squash is very good. Especially since it keeps so well. I still have a couple of the butternuts from last year on my kitchen counter. Need to cook them soon, the vines in the garden are absolutely loaded right now.

  7. Angela says:

    These squashes know how to travel in style! Spaghetti squash use to be the only winter squash I liked, many years ago before I figured how to cook other varieties. I had forgotten how much they sprawl. Thanks for a very informative post, it is nice to see how much yield you can get from those plants.

  8. Daphne says:

    I love spaghetti squash too. I’ve always eaten it with spaghetti sauce and meatballs.Yum. A small variety seems much more useful than the larger ones. I’m the only one in my family that eats it and one squash takes quite a while to go through. Sadly I don’t grow C. pepo anymore though (except zucchini). The SVBs kill them too quickly. I never get any fruits from them before they die.

  9. Kelly says:

    What a wonderful post. Reading makes me want to go order some of those seeds, but alas, I must remember that my garden, and squash are not a good match.

  10. Ignatius Sudol says:

    Thanks for identifying that what I found growing in my garden was small wonder spagetti squash. I harvested a “ton” of them today. Will the green immature ones eventually turn yellow?

    • Dave says:

      If there’s time enough in the growing season, they should eventually mature and turn yellow.

      • Alan says:

        Hello, I know this is an old post but I’m wondering how much time is needed for the squash to turn yellow instead of dark green like you have in a photo above? I live in SW GA and am growing them during the summer. Thanks

        • Dave says:

          Hi Alan,

          It’s been a while since I’ve grown Small Wonder, but as I recall it doesn’t take long for the squash to mature and turn yellow.

          • Alan says:

            Hi Dave. Thanks for responding. Since I commented, my green squash are now starting to change to a golden yellow. I guess all they needed was a little patience.

            Be well.

  11. Kathie says:

    Dave, can you harvest these when they are slightly green, very light green almost white before turning yellow and cook them; also will they yellow on their own if you happen to pick one before turning yellow. I was curious so I picked one early, sliced in half and the meat is white (I know it is not harvest color) but was like I said curious if you could bake and eat at this stage…like eating other squash when young and tender. Also any tips on storing them to eat later in the season.

    • Dave says:

      Hi Kathie, I’ve never tried harvesting them when young so I really can’t say how they might taste. As for storage, if you let them mature on the vine and turn yellow, they will keep for several months in a cool place. I store them with winter squash in our unheated basement.

    • Alan Smail says:

      Hey Kathy,

      I know your question was directed towards Dave but I wanted to give my input as well. I found that if I picked mine while they were green, they had MUCH more water to them and they didn’t seem to cook properly. I had to be patient and I did leave mine on the vine another 2-3 weeks longer after they turned green and they finally did turn yellow. Now, the vine that it was attached too wasn’t looking so good towards the end but the squash turned out well and no more watery squash(as if it were overcooked but not). I do want to add that if you are following a recipe that has directions on cooking a spaghetti squash, remember that these are smaller and cooking times are about half. I cook mine in a preheated oven @ 350 degrees for approx 35 minutes, face down with about 1/4 inch of water. I fount that using any more would cause it to be mushy. I check it after 30 to make sure the skin isn’t too soft. Have fun and good luck!

      @Dave, I am hoping mine will keep for that long. I pulled up the vines and didn’t allow them to grow anymore; I had 35 squash from 4 vines and more were coming.

  12. Karl says:

    Love your article. I got a kick out of it as my garden has been over run by them, but looking forward to a great harvest. Unfortunately the sprawl has covered up some of my peppers and are starting to invade my tomatoes. Good thing the tomatoes have a good head start and are able to hold their own. I did notice that the ones that got outside my fence are being gnawed at – assuming deer since we have a lot of them here in PA.

    Love the comments and info as wasn’t sure the proper time to harvest as have a lot now that are green so will wait for yellow and enjoy

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