Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Throw it up in the air, and it comes down--SQUASH


Well, just past Thanksgiving and what am I thinking about? Squash -- not the silly joke above, but their origins. BTW, squash are in the fruit family, strictly speaking, not a vegetable, as we are accustomed to thinking of it. 

The actual origin is still murky. People were planting gourds in Africa 11,000 years ago for use as tools. These are the "Bird House," "Bottle Gourds," or Calabashes, the kind you can still plant in your garden today. These were used for eating and drinking and for storing grain as early as 11,000 in Africa and Asia. If our American squash originated in Africa, it would have had a long journey across the ocean, but some scientists have actually figured out that if such a gourd fell into the proper currents, it could have carried viable seeds during the likely 9 month journey to South America. 

However, seeds of the wild squash have been found in ancient Mastodon dung, first deposited by our North American "elephant," as long as 30,000 years ago. These wild squash were terribly bitter and the rinds were thick, so were nothing humans could have eaten, but the Mastodon didn't seem to mind, and by eating and imperfectly digesting, they planted wild squash all over their range. *Kistler & Smith, 2014 

As all our squash/pumpkin varieties were bred by humans out of gourds, I'm voting for indigenous gourds, rather than ocean-faring gourds as the source of North/South American squash today. Once again, those Native Americans, the ones of whom my parents said: "didn't create anything like we Europeans did," are the geniuses who performed this spectacular feat of plant breeding, as they did with corn, many varieties of beans, all the tomatoes, and many of the hot pepper family. Post-contact Europe quickly adopted potatoes, another "new world" miracle food. 

"Anyone who has visited Hirschhorn in the ....Neckar Valley....will remember being confronted by a Potato Monument, dedicated 'To God & Francis Drake, who brought to Europe for the everlasting benefit of the poor--the Potato."* (The Joy of Cooking, by RomBauer & Becker, 1952(c) They should have dedicated it to the inventors--Peruvian Indians.) 

Pardon my potato digression, and of course grains such as oats, wheat, barley, rye, flax, sesame and nutritious, delicious plants like many carrots, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips were created out of unlikely plants in Europe and the Middle East, as well. Took those clever women a lot of time and thought and many generations, I'm sure!    ;)  

Now back to squash. So many kinds to choose from: 

North Georgia Candy Roaster
or, to Northerners,
Sweet Potato Squash
(it looks like a Vorlon ship)

There are four pages of Cucurbita in my Southern Exposure Seed Catalog, and probably many more in Johnny, Burpee, etc. 

"Cinderella" pumpkin, "Ghost" pumpkin,
and a mini Connecticut Field pumpkin

There are the summer squashes: Crookneck, Zucchini, Scallop (Flying Saucer), and Cocozelle (Stripes), all of which are C. pepo species, despite the multiplicity of forms. There are also winter squashes, so called because they are "keepers" which last long after they are picked. The most familiar supermarket varieties are Butternut, (C. moschata),  Acorn and Delicata, (C. Pepo), and Buttercup or Turban (C. maxima).  

Pumpkins are also part of this same Cucurbita genus as well. People have gone nuts lately breeding strange ones--the warty ones are on my mind--but the most familiar ones are Connecticut Field, Rouge Vif D'Etampes (Cinderella), and Small Sugar pumpkins, for pies. Lately, the "Ghost" pumpkins are in vogue, and there are many types with names like: Luminaria, Caspar, Polar Bear, Snowball, etc. for a gardener to choose from, as well as mini-varieties for decorating the table. They all make good livestock food, I've learned, if you cut them open, so the seeds can be easily got at, as well as the yellow flesh. The squirrels soon took my "artistic" display below apart, as you might imagine, although they had to do it around good old B0B in those days, which was taking their furry lives into their paws.

Overindulgent Goth Pumpkin 

~~Juliet Waldron


  1. I'm a buttercup squash fan especially the soup.

    1. So kind of you to comment on this topic--only interesting to those of us who tend to fall down Rabbit Holes! ;)

  2. So many cousins in the squash family. Except for zucchini and yellow squash, I avoid most of them. I'm allergic to pumpkin. Thanks for sharing.


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