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One of the most popular foods in the fall is named for a different season: winter squash, particularly acorn squash. While still a popular pick in the winter, acorn squash in Illinois is generally harvested in late summer to early November. It’s the first fall food I go for after decorating my house with pumpkins and fall décor.

Acorn squash is somewhat round and small, usually around four inches in diameter. It has deep-ridged grooves on the outer skin, making it a bit intimidating to slice. It’s dark green skin will sometimes have orange markings. The flesh is yellow to orange in color, and it has a relatively large seed cavity. This feature makes it the perfect holding dish to stuff all sorts of yummy ingredients!

There are many ways to prepare acorn squash without having to peel it. Give it a good rinse under water first. Then, slice in half. (If it’s too tough to handle, put it in the microwave for two minutes to soften first.) Scoop out the seeds and bake cut-side down in a baking dish with 1/4-inch of water. This works in the microwave, too!

Eat squash right out of the skin, or scoop it out with a spoon to use as a puree in a recipe. Another preparation method is to slice the halves into thin moon shapes and roast. The contrast of the dark skin against the bright yellow/orange flesh makes for an elegant plate.

Simply Roasted Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon butter

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

⅛ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice each squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings with a spoon. Lay each squash half on its flat side; cut into 1/4-inch thick slices parallel to the stem. Transfer to baking sheet. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir the syrup, butter, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Microwave in 15-second intervals until the butter is melted. Brush the syrup mixture on both sides of the squash. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Flip each slice over and continue roasting 15-20 minutes or until squash is fork tender. Peel the skin off when eating.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 110 calories, 2 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.