Native American: the Squash -August 2019

by: Aidan Feeney

Nantucket has its own variety of winter squash, which came to this island along the intersecting currents of history. The word squash is derived from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash.

Squash was grown widely throughout the Americas in pre-Columbian times. When European settlers arrived in New England, they quickly adopted the practice of growing squash from the Native Americans and it became an important part of the colonial New England diet. As European farmers settled different areas of the region, they grew and selected varieties of squash that best suited their locales.

The variety best suited for this island came to be known as the Nantucket long pie pumpkin. This squash was grown year after year in the isolation that once defined the island. Thrifty farmers saved seeds from vigorous and well-performing plants, and a variety perfectly suited to Nantucket’s maritime climate was developed.

The plant produces fiveto eight-pound long and slender orange pumpkins. They have an orange flesh with a silkysmooth texture and an incredibly sweet flavor. This winter squash/pumpkin makes an incredible pumpkin pie.

As small-scale and subsistence farming declined on Nantucket, the long pie pumpkin faded into obscurity and nearly extinction. Luckily, however, a dedicated farmer and seedsaver from Maine grew and saved seeds from the pumpkin for over 30 years before giving the seeds to a seed company. Since then, the variety has been making a slow but steady comeback and it can now be purchased from a variety of seed companies including High Mowing Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

The local-food movement continues to build momentum across America. In every part of the country people are finding a renewed interest in the plant varieties and culinary traditions that historically defined their regions. Many of these plant varieties have been lost forever and are now replaced with generic, commercial varieties. As New Englanders and Nantucketers, I encourage all home gardeners to try to grow winter squash in their gardens. This is one way that all of us can help to preserve and pay homage to our heritage and traditions.

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