A Winter Squash for the South

Growing up in New England, winter squash were a staple in the garden – they were sweet by nature, but the cold falls brought the sugars out to perfection; their thick rind allowed them to sit in the root cellar all winter waiting to be used, sweetening as the days passed; their flowers are showy and easy to hand pollinate, and there is an endless variety to choose from ranging in flavor, shape, color, texture, size and plant habitat. I would often find myself perusing farmers’ markets looking for odd shaped and unique varieties to save seed from in the hope that something might come back true to form the following years.

When we moved to Georgia, the farmers’ markets were all but devoid of winter squash. The local nurseries could not suggest any specific varieties that would weather the heat, the squash borers, and, in the end, produce something remotely palatable. Initially, I went with a couple of my favorites: Delicata and Sweet Dumpling. Unfortunately, they did not work so well. By the time the weather started to cool, the fruit had been harvested and the vines long dead. Squash vine borers feasted, and the little squash we actually harvested was anything but sweet.

Not willing to miss out on one of my favorite garden delicacies, I went to the internet to search for some answers. I always learned that squash was a staple of Native Americans, and the Cherokee inhabited this land until they were driven to Oklahoma, so I started there and somehow ended up at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in search of something called the North Georgia Candy Roaster.

Unlike my favorites – which are all varieties of Cucubrita pepo – the Candy Roaster is a Cucubrita maxima, which means it’s big: the vines are big, the leaves are big, and the squash is big, but it’s over sized leaves, lengthy vines, and ability to root at will from nodes along the vine make it an ideal candidate for three sisters planting, keeping weeds down and moisture in, a plus when it comes to gardening in the deep south. According to Slow Foods USA, the Candy Roaster was cultivated among the Cherokee tribes in what is today western North Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee. We are in Middle Georgia, so our winters are incredibly mild, and our summers are hot, but based on the plants historical habitat, we had to give it a shot, and by mid-summer, we were not disappointed.

These squash did excellent in the garden, almost too well. By summer’s end we were inundated with squash. Throughout the summer we continually moved vines to grow back into the corn, but eventually just began trimming the ends of the vines that became too long and unruly. By the end of summer we had a couple of wheel barrows full of the orange squash either tear drop or banana shaped, all with a green tip and some with greenish blue striations. They were a marvel to look at, they tasted just as good, and to top if off, they produced all summer, though the second crop was much skinnier and smaller, they were just as tasty.

Just a small batch of our second harvest.

This squash was certainly a winner and one we will continue to plant for seasons to come. SlowFoodsUSA lists seed availability as concern, but fortunately, we have some seeds of this variety available. You can find these seeds here.

Using the North Georgia Candy Roaster as a subject, I made a how-to video demonstrating hand pollination of the Cucurbitacae family. You can watch it here.

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