An unexpected transformation occurs once winter squash are plucked from their vines: Like Pygmalion's sculpture, they change from humble vegetables to works of homegrown art. Their fluted, ruffled, and ribbed rinds and twisted stems make for a visual feast, especially when clustered on a mantel, piled on the porch, or arranged as a centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table. Hues of brilliant orange, deep green, tawny brown, and dusky blue complement almost any tableau, and unlike ornamental--and inedible--gourds, the squash featured in this article taste as good as they look.
Squash come in the classic fall colors: umber, blazing yellow, and sunset orange. Pumpkins are favorites for decor and eating, but other types of winter squash offer the same burst of color and a more diverse range of shapes and flavors. The baking squash 'Red Warty Thing' (a.k.a. 'Victor') and 'Eastern Rise' both have smooth, dense, deliciously sweet flesh with a subtle nutty flavor. These orange, teardrop-shaped fruits keep long into the winter and pair well with pumpkins, Hubbard squash, and round kabocha squash in decorative seasonal arrangements. Three French heirlooms known for their superior culinary qualities also make excellent fall decorations: The rare, single-serving-size fruits of 'Pomme d'Or' are about the size and color of oranges and lemons. 'Galeux d'Eysines' is a large, round fruit with pale salmon-colored skin and a smattering of tan bumps; its sweet potato-flavored flesh purees well, making it the perfect choice for soups. And the lovely 'Musquee de Provence' offers a fairytale pumpkin shape and a delicate flavor.
Blue and Green Beauties Moody dark green and gray blue winter squash provide the perfect foil for their fiery-colored cousins. Two unusual Australian heirlooms, 'Triamble' and 'Queensland Blue', feature sweet, deeply flavored, bright orange flesh; they will store up to 5 months. The shamrock-shaped 'Triamble' has a pale green rind that is as smooth as marble; 'Queensland Blue' makes the perfect doorstop, with 10- to 20-pound, deeply ribbed fruit with jade blue skin. For baking, try 'Blue Hubbard', a large squash with a hard, powdery blue shell complementing its bright orange flesh that is an excellent substitute for pumpkin in pies and soups. 'Marina di Chioggia', a turban-shaped heirloom from northeastern Italy, has richly flavored, mustard-colored flesh concealed within a knobby, ribbed, blue-green shell.
Earthy Favorites The muted tans, creams, and browns of many butternut, buttercup, and dumpling squash have an understated beauty. For stuffing, roasting, and baking, 'Sweet Dumpling' is unbeatable. The petite ivory fruits are mottled green and have succulent, tender flesh. 'Thelma Sanders' is an acorn-type heirloom with pronounced ridges and a cream-colored skin that ripens to a burnished gold. It makes a perfect meal for two, as does 'Honeynut', a generously fruiting, miniature butternut squash that sets up to 18 fruits per plant. The lovely 'Pattison Panache Verte et Blanc', a green and ivory scalloped fruit, and 'Zucchino Rampicante', a slender Italian squash with smooth tawny skin and a bulbous bottom, can both be harvested young as summer squash or left to mature on the vine and enjoyed in winter as baking squash.