My first goal of my squash season is to bulk up some seed for Sweet Meat - Oregon Homestead winter squash I got from Carol Deppe's seed company. I envision learning about hand pollinating squash.
The next goal is that this place has far too much lawn that is far too much effort to maintain. So I mounded up a ridge of semi-composted goat manure along the top of a steep slope, will cover it with soil, then plant the seeds there. With luck, I can encourage the vines to trail down the slope and smother as many weeds as they like.
I also want to grow yummy things I like to eat, like cucumbers, buttercup, butternut, kabocha, and possibly some pumpkins.
And lastly, if everything works out, I would like to start my own landrace of buttercup like squash with thick flesh and big seeds.
So I have a bunch of seeds, some saved from delicious supermarket squash, some from the bottom of the seed storage area, some newly bought. Lots of space to plant them all!
Now for my question - who do I trust when figuring out if a squash is maxima, moschata, or pepo?
The seed packets have all sorts of names that don't seem to correspond to the common name. For example, my packet of buttercup from Henry Field's says moschata (as does their butternut). Whereas west coast seeds, say that their Kabocha is maxima. And here I was thinking that buttercup and kabocha were closely related due to their similar shape and flavour.
Or maybe they are related? Seed to Seed by Ashworth lists buttercup as maxima, but doesn't seem to mention anything about kabocha.
Seeds of Diversity the Canadian member to member seed exchange has Kabocha and Butternut under moschata, and buttercup under maxima.
Are all pumpkins, pepo, or are there large, orange pumpkin tasting squash that aren't pepo?
Different books seem to think different things. Some say armenian cucumbers will not cross with regular cucumbers, others say they will. And then, what about my luffa plants? Will they cross with anything?
I'm thinking that Deppe seems pretty on top of things when it comes to plant naming, so I'll assume her sweet meat squash is actually Cucurbita maxima.
What's the definitive source to tell me which will cross with which. For my landrace, I'm very keen to include kabocha in with the buttercups, but if it's a waste of time, then I will plant them off to one side.
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R Ranson wrote:And here I was thinking that buttercup and kabocha were closely related due to their similar shape and flavour.
Trust your own judgement on this matter. They are both maximas. I love growing Kabocha and Buttercup together.
These are my buttercups. They have some Kabocha influence in them. And some influence from Red Kuri. I'd like to get rid of the "cup" and move this population towards Kabocha style.
Armenian cucumbers are Cucumis melo, so will not cross with cucumbers, but they will cross with muskmelons and honeydews. Luffa is it's own species, so doesn't cross with other squash.
R Ranson wrote:Are all pumpkins, pepo, or are there large, orange pumpkin tasting squash that aren't pepo?
Pumpkin is a generic term for a round(ish) shaped squash, so any species can produce pumpkins.
Here's some moschata pumpkins from last year:
This was my favorite squash last summer. The only one that got to pose with the farmer. I think that it is an inter-species hybrid between Moschata and Mixta.
I LOVE YOUR SQUASH!
Let me say that properly.
I LOVE YOUR SQUASH!!!
It's been years since I've seen a squash with the proper buttercup cup. The ones in the store just have tiny cups, like doll house thimbles. I miss buttercups with cups.
The first photo, the squash on the top with the proper cup - that's what I want. That's my exact ideal shape... only I didn't imagine there could be such pretty colours.
Isn't it fantastic that we have the power to select and breed varieties of squash to fit our desires? You don't want cups, I want cups... we can each make the squash we like. I'm completely infatuated that we as gardeners/farmers have this super-power.
So... does this look right?
Sweet meat - oregon homestead winter squash
buttercup/kabocha shape grocery store squash
yet to be classified
Giant squat pumpkin shape orange squash that volunteered in my garden last year that probably came from something the supermarket called 'cinderella squash' that tasted like a sweet pie pumpkin with dryish thick flesh. 20 pounds being the smaller ripe pumpkinesk squash, 35 pounds average, 50+ pounds biggest. Vines grew over a meter a day in the summer. VERY prolific for both vine and fruit. Drought tolerant. Big white seed.
If this is right, then the only risk (advantage) I have of crossing is the buttercup shape and the sweet meat (which I won't mind having in the Max-mix). I would hand pollinate a bunch of the sweet meat so I can bulk up on pure seed, then let the rest of the Max-mix promiscuously pollinate a few meters away. Some sweet meat would possibly venture into the buttercup style squash... hopefully giving the thick, sweet flesh quality. Save seeds. Repeat next year.
I'm not sure how to select seeds the first year for my max-mix, as I have at least some seed that is definitely F1, and the supermarket kind is unknown. Selecting on the bases of growth and fruit this year, means I'm only selecting on the basis of the mother plants, since promiscuous pollination means I don't know the father traits. Maybe at least one fruit from each vine, then a few seeds from each fruit are planted next year, then start selecting? Or don't start selecting until the third year? Or only the vines that thrive the first year? There are so many decisions. Thankfully I don't have to make this decision until the fall.
Can you tell us more about your method? When did you start selecting? Or was it your climate that did most of the selection? I understand you have short, difficult summers.
Should I risk growing the pumpkin shaped squash seed? Does it sound enough like a pepo that it isn't a Max---? I'm not keen on having huge squash in my Max-mix. Then again, the pumpkin would smother all weeds with great enthusiasm, thus destroying all hint of lawn. The taste of the pumpkin was nice, and the flesh up to two inches thick, both qualities I'm looking for - would it be so bad having that in my Max-mix? Tough decision.
Edited by moderator to embed video.
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The reason that I don't like the cup shape is that they don't seem to keep as long for me as the kaboocha/hubbard/kuri shapes. It doesn't matter too much though, because my main storage squash are the moschatas. So I eat maximas from September through December, and Moschatas from December till Spring.
This Maxima however lasted 440 days in storage. I wanted the space for something else, so I eventually threw it out. It was still technically edible. But didn't have any sugar left, so taste was blah.
Cinderella is a Maxima. I agree with the other labels.
The first year or two my selection criteria for warm weather crops often ends up being: Survival-of-the-fittest. In other words, it must make seeds in my climate, and in spite of my alkaline soil, and brilliant sunlight, and low humidity, and haphazard weeding, and irregardless of the bugs, worms, or microbes. It must survive the habits of the farmer!
Replant seeds from those that are pleasing to you. If some plants are particularly displeasing to you, chop them out before they flower, then they won't be passing that trait on. For example, every year I chop out about 10% of the squash for growing slowly just after germination. No pikers allowed. A few get chopped out for being bug magnets, or highly prone to mildew. Plants at my place have to jump out of the ground and grow vigorously to beat weeds and the fall frosts. I chop out about 15% of the watermelons each year for germinating a month after the rest of the seeds germinate.
Planting a few seeds from each mother retains maximum genetic diversity. Replanting seeds only from fruits that resemble your end goal reduces diversity, but gets you where you want to go.
I really like planting fruit-to-row: By that I mean, planting a hill or short row of squash together that are all descended from the same mother. That lets me see differences between mothers. Might not know who's the daddy, but offspring tend to resemble their parents. It's easier to make quicker selection progress that way. I typically choose a couple of plants that closely resemble my end goal, and plant lots of seeds from those, then I plant bulk seed collected from anything that produced seeds.
This is my 7th growing season since I started intentionally breeding my own varieties. I started out slowly. But when I saw how successful it was, I vowed to grow all of my own seed. This is the 3rd growing season that I have not bought seeds. Some crops immediately thrived in my climate, some are still giving me fits. For example: I might actually succeed at growing storage onions this year... Onions grow great here. It's a farmer training issue that has been the problem. My whole life I planted onion sets that were grown in Texas. But doing so now would violate my vow to not buy seeds. Aaargh! That's been a tough one that has little to do with botany, and everything to do with the farmer's bad habits.
My method is simple:
I rarely label plants in the field. I don't keep pedigrees. The plants are my babies. I can see the family resemblance for years after varieties hook up in new ways.
With okra, watermelon, runner beans, and favas in the first few years the ecosystem did almost all of the selection. Success rates were around 1% or less.
The first year I planted moschata squash was about a 75% failure rate: Meaning 75% of the varieties I planted didn't make a fruit. (They may have contributed pollen).
About 50% of the spinach varieties I planted bolted immediately.
I've never had a turnip that grew poorly here. Some were not socially acceptable, but biologically turnips fit right in.
Great info Joseph. That's a big squash!
I definitely don't want to be a slave to my crops. The plants need to be strong enough to deal with my weather and style of gardening - which is one that embraces bugs. Bugs happen, they eat stuff, toughen up or get ploughed under.
Next year I'll have to get my hands on some Kuri. Seeds of diversity actually has it listed under max-squash. Nice.
I don't know if my 'cinderella squash' is actually cinderella squash or not. The grocery store is very creative in what they call things. But what luck, I found some photos of it growing - maybe we can learn more about what style of squash it is. They are about half size in these photos. They went dark orange/red when when the stems started to harden, that's when I picked them because frost was coming. They kept till early Dec. At first we thought they were summer squash, so we ate a bunch of the young fruit - worlds more flavour than zucchini, but still blah, summer squash texture. I wonder if we hadn't eaten the first half of the fruit if the squash would have been larger.
I know it may not be cinderella anymore, but knowing if it's a max-, a mos- or a pepo would be useful.
Thinking more about it, I'll leave it as a maybe pile. But I will probably plant a few at least. They were so productive and drought tolerant, that those traits alone would make up for any non-buttercup shape they bring to the table. Who knows, their offspring may be the best squash of the lot.
How do you cure your Max-squash? How do you store them? Any favourite recipes?
This year, I have almost full control of the food growing. It's wonderful. Unlike previous years where the family spent far too much money on seeds of varieties that no one really likes, this year I'm focusing on vegetables and staple crops that we enjoy and can be used to develop something we enjoy more. Everything is seed focused - either bulking up on specific seeds, or starting my landrace adventure with all the half finished packets of seeds (some packets are from companies that went extinct well before I was born) and seeds saved from groceries. I'm hoping that by next year, I'll be buying or using the seed exchange for only 10% of the seeds we plant, bringing that down to 5% the next year, and maybe keep it there. There are always new plants that I've never tried growing before.
Hopefully we can do the same with the kitchen. Move to a style of life where we are only buying 10% of what we eat (just the luxuries like coffee and olive oil).
Squash have always been okay, but never the main focus in the kitchen. Reading Deppe's book Resilient Gardener, made me realize that squash can be a staple crop and not just a side dish to roast beast. The buttercup grow like stink here and they are the ones we buy most from the grocery store. We have all this space that is contaminated with lawn - ug, lawn! - why not transform it into squash?
Thanks so much for all the help and advice.
(sorry if my dyslexia is showing, spell check broke, I think it got fed up with me and decided to go on vacation)
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I don't cure my squash... I pick them and stack them in the barn. When it gets too cold in the barn I move them to the garage. When it gets too cold in the garage I move them into the house. Reviewing photos reminds me that I cut the stem off very close to the squash. That way it's less likely to break off inadvertently. They store better with the stem intact. Maxima stems in particular tend to rot, so the less stem the better.
My favorite squash recipe is: Cut squash in half. Remove seeds. Lay face down in a cake pan. Bake at 350 F for about an hour. Serve with butter or coconut oil. My skin turns orange during the winter because I eat squash for every meal trying to harvest all the seeds I grow. I also really enjoy cutting the squash into 3/8" to 1/2" slabs and frying it in bacon fat.
I have been looking at my food and asking the question: "What am I currently buying that I could be growing for myself". Last year it was tomatillo sauce. Just yesterday a bunch of mustard seed germinated. I had three different lots of grocery store mustard seeds. One of them germinated like crazy. What a bother. Now I have to do the research to determine what species it is, and think about which field to plant it in so that I don't mess up my other brassica seed growing crops.
OK.... I've been working on this for a year. Guess it's time to post it.
Visual Guide To Identifying Squash...
Leaves smooth and plain. Flowers smallish and rounded. Stem round and cork-like. Mature fruits are commonly shades of green, orange, and peach. Immature fruits may include yellow. Fruit size up to thousands of pounds. Squash over 40 pounds are almost always Maximas. Fruit shape is round, blocky, or elongated. (No necked squash.) Seeds large to extra large. Often corky.
Smooth leaves. Often mottled. Huge rounded flowers. Stem 5 sided and flared where it connects to squash. Ripe fruits are tan. Immature fruits are light green, buff, or dark green. Fruit size up to 30 pounds. Fruit shape is blocky, elongated, or necked. Seeds small to medium -- often with a dark margin.
Pepo (pumpkins, marrows, zucchini):
Deeply lobed leaves. Sometimes with light mottling. Flowers fat star shaped. Stem 5 sided -- star-like -- very angular. Fruits are shades of green, yellow, orange, and buff. Fruit shape is round, blocky, or cylindrical. Seeds large.
Pepo squash were domesticated twice, so have somewhat different traits, sorry I've munged photos/descriptions from the two different types together. I'll update photos as available.
Pepo - Olifera (acorn, crookneck, pattypan, scallop) :
Fruits are shades of white, green, and yellow. Fruit size up to about 5 pounds. Fruit shape is round, blocky, elongated, or necked. Fluting is common on fruits. Seeds small.
Jagged leaf margin -- sometimes deeply lobed. Often heavily mottled. Flowers star- shaped with petals rolled up. Stem cork-like -- more irregular and less round than Maxima. Fruits are shades of yellow, white, and green. Fruits roundish or necked. Fruit size up to 15 pounds. Seeds large -- skin often cracked.
Later edit: I added this page to my web site which allowed me to group the different species together for easier comparisons... How to Identify Squash
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Fantastic squash guide!
Is it possible I've found the most knowledgeable place on the internet?
I think I may just toss in some giant pumpkin style squash into my max-mix. There was a buttercup or two that tried to volunteer last year, but got overgrown by the pumpkin before it produced fruit - which means it may have contributed pollen to my current pumpkin seed supply.
Fried squash in bacon? Now I'm getting really excited about planting squash.
Dan Boone wrote:What do you mean by "domesticated twice"?
It appears that the wild pepo squash was domesticated in South Central Mexico about 10,000 years ago (subspecies pepo - pumpkins, zucchini, spaghetti, marrow). And that it was domesticated independently in eastern North American about 5000 years ago (sub species ovifera, - acorn, crookneck, pattypan, scallop).
Another squash question - can we tell just by looking at a squash if it will be a good keeper or not? Is there something in the skin toughness, or flesh thickness, or sweetness... something we can look at and say, "yes, that squash will keep the winter, this other one we had best eat now."?
R Ranson wrote:Another squash question - can we tell just by looking at a squash if it will be a good keeper or not? [...] something we can look at and say, "yes, that squash will keep the winter, this other one we had best eat now."?
There are things that I look for to approach the problem from the opposite direction, things that say to me, "This squash needs to be eaten soon".
Rotting around the blossom connection.
Blemishes on the skin either from bugs or from microbe infection from sitting on the ground.
The fruit being picked immature.
Gravel embedded into the skin, such as when a helper was kick-rolling squash to the truck rather than lifting them.
To improve longevity, I don't wash the squash after harvest. They get stored with dried dirt on them.
The pepo and mixta species don't store well for me. Maxima store fairly well. Moschata store extremely well.
So just by looking, I'd make a general statement that if it looks like an undamaged moschata squash that it will probably store for a long time.
Dan: I plant a few squash every few weeks during the summer, because it seems to me like it is only old plants that succumb to mildew, so if I always have a few young plants around, there will be a few that haven't yet succumbed to mildew. (I live in an extremely dry climate... So caveat emptor)
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
Dan: I plant a few squash every few weeks during the summer, because it seems to me like it is only old plants that succumb to mildew, so if I always have a few young plants around, there will be a few that haven't yet succumbed to mildew. (I live in an extremely dry climate... So caveat emptor)
This climate isn't that dry in general, but during the summer months when I've lost zukes to mildew and bugs it might as well be, as we often get zero precip June through August. Last summer I thought I'd be clever and try staggered plantings as you suggest, as well as watering exclusively into pipes set into the ground to keep all irrigation water away from my leaves. With my plants grown from weaksauce cheap dollar-store "Black Beauty" seeds I still had all the plants succumb to mildew after they'd produced about four zukes each, and there were a few squash bugs visible as well that contributed to the demise. Unfortunately when the plants finished dying all the squash bugs (and their second generation I'm guessing) moved over to my second planting and ate those plants to death before they ever had time to get mildew or a crop.
But I am resilient. This year I bought a type of zuke seed from a local hardware store that stocks seed from an in-state producer, and plus I ordered about four different kinds of summer squash seeds of varieties reputed to be resistant to mildew or bugs or both. My first crop of the local seeds is flowering already and I've planted a second wave in several varieties. I'm gonna find something that works here if I have to breed it myself!
Of course this year is not representative; it's the wettest spring I've seen in ten years and lots of stuff in my garden is languishing and turning yellow from wet feet and no sunshine. The roads are washing out and the dams overflowing and water is running across my yard in continuous sheet flow. So maybe what works this year won't work next year. I guess I'll find out!
R Ranson wrote:can we tell just by looking at a squash if it will be a good keeper or not? Is there something in the skin toughness, or flesh thickness, or sweetness... something we can look at and say, "yes, that squash will keep the winter, this other one we had best eat now."?
I think the variety and the climate has a lot to do with it.
Joseph said that mixta (argyosperma) don't store well for him, but in my climate, where there is plenty of time for the fruit to ripen fully and cure in the sun, they store exceedingly well, even though the skins sometimes split.
Here's one we grew last year. It's a green striped cushaw.
There was damage on the neck, but it still stored well until March this year.
Then I cut it open. The damage looked like on the inside, ie, pretty well non-existent. Maybe cushaws are self-healing in some way...
Some of my seed-haul. The ones at the front are pepo, candystick dessert delicata, and they stored surprisingly well. They were nowhere near as sweet as I expected them to be though. Maybe I cured them too long, or maybe they lose their sweetness with storage? Still good for quick soups though when I don't want to do battle with a bigger pumpkin.
Another thing we don't have here YET is squash bugs. With the current trend of importing seedlings from off Island, and fewer and fewer people growing from seed, I'm sure it won't be long before we get the bugs. Am I right in thinking that they do the most damage to younger plants? These bugs also require fairly warm and sunny conditions to thrive? I found a couple of squash varieties (from Deppe's site I linked to in an earlier post) which grow best when direct seeded early, before the warmth of summer gets going. By planting in early April, instead of late May, I wonder if this would avoid the major damage from squash bugs - the plants being a month old before the bugs start to hatch. What do you think?
Also, very interesting about curing and storing squash. I love the different methods everyone has, and would love to hear more. Looking at one seed company (who calls buttercup pepo, max, and mosch, all in the same article), they say that Max- squash only need three days to cure in the house, or 10 in the field. Other places say max squash are better after two months of curing. Reading this thread, I'm beginning to think that a lot of how the squash store has to do with the growing conditions.
Thanks again everyone for such a great conversation. Looking at the squash patch this morning, all the grocery store seeds are up! I planted 6 per hole thinking that none of them would grow. Can't wait for the other seeds to start showing themselves.
They are eating my squash seedlings. At first it was just a nibble here and a missing seedling there. Now they are descending on my squash patch in droves. A murmuration of starlings, a ... what is it we call a group of robbins? A nuisance?
Anyway, had to resort to putting that horrid white remai on my squash patch. I tried sprinkling it with DE and cayenne, but no luck. I think the birds liked their breakfast a bit spiced up as they brought friends.
What do you do about birds eating your squash seedlings?
I was thinking next year I'll plant a few weeks earlier. Right now it's between when the birds show up and when the first berries come ready, so they are hungry and more likely to eat my squash and bean seedlings.
Burra Maluca wrote:Joseph - do you know anything about the squash family-tree?
Do we know how they are all related to each other, and which species are older, and which branched off from which? Has any genetic analysis ever been done or is everything we know just an educated guess?
The genetic studies have been done, and more are being done all the time. The keyword to search for to find the relationships among species is "phylogenetic tree". Combining that with "cucurbit" leads to this diagram of how the squash are related.
So from the diagram, Mixta and Moschata are very closely related. I speculate that they are not quite separate species yet, but are strongly headed in that direction. They are derived from the same ancestral lines as pepo squash. The two different domestications of pepo squash are closely related.
Maxima squash diverged quite a long time ago from the rest of the domesticated squash families.
I'll post that image up here so it's easier to see while reading the thread...
So basically maxima and pepo split fairly early on, then the pepo also diversified into moschata and mixta/argyosperma. And ficifolia, which are grown frequently where I live, look like they branched off even earlier than maxima.
That's interesting. Thankyou!
I know that I once had a completely seedless moschata, solid all the way though, that was hand pollinated with a pepo flower as we were a bit short on bees at the time. And the diagram does seem to suggest that pepo would be more likely to do that than maxima. I guess that the pollen was similar enough to bypass the 'abort fruit' function but not similar enough to actually produce seeds?
One day I might attempt to discover my artistic side and produce a more visual
There is a simpler diagram at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cucurbita
Do these leaves look like the same type of squash to you? They are all suppose to be Max-squash (Cucurbita maxima), but the leaves are very different.
The more round shape leaves are kabocha, buttercup, and cinderella style squash. The deep lobe leaves are the Sweet Meat from Deppe. At a glance, the stem and flower shape are very similar.
I'm puzzled because I can't imagine Carol Deppe being wrong about the kind of squash she has, but then again, it doesn't match all the other max squash I've met... therefore, all the rest of the world must be wrong about max squash leaves? Or perhaps there is more variation within max-squash than I thought?
Could someone put my mind at rest about this squash leaf situation? Are they all max squash and will all cross pollinate freely and with great vigour, or are there actually two kinds of squash that won't interbreed and the seeds I get from the Sweet Meat will be prue?
Online photos I found of Oregon Homestead Sweet Meat show the classic maxima leaves, fruits, and peduncles.
Powdery/downy mildew already? Yikes...
This is a new garden bed and these squash are definitely growing from Sweet Meat, Oregon Homesteader seed that I got from Deppe - her foundation grade seed. I planted the seed off to one side a bit to be certain that they wouldn't be confused with the others. Of 5 seeds planted, I had 3 come up and have the same leaf and growth pattern. So far a total of 4 squash from these plants. I picked a smaller one this week, just so I could have it cure and try it early. The squash are the right shape and colour for sweet meat as described by Deppe, but mine have a smoother skin so far, and look like they will be a fair bit larger. I would be shocked if the small sweet meat squash I picked was under 20 pounds, but I'll have to get a scale out of storage to weigh it as none of my regular ones go that high.
I'll get some photos tomorrow. Leaves, fruit, stem and fruit-stem. Anything else you would like to see?
In the mean time, here's the some of my early harvest because I was hungry: Sweet meat, some First Taste kabocha F1 squash, and some grocery store buttercup style squash. They won't store long being picked like this, but then again, they won't last long in the house now that I've discovered that squash can be a staple food and not just a side dish.
I'm wondering if I should contact Deppe about the squash.
Burra Maluca wrote:Is that sweet-meat in the photo one that grew from a plant with the fig-shaped leaves? Because it looks just like the ones I grow from Carol's seed. I'll have to double check the leaves on mine though.
The very same. That sweet meat squash grew from Carol's seeds with the interesting leaves.
I know she put a lot of work into breeding awesome tasting squash, so maybe the leaves are a side effect of tastiness?
I don't know if I managed to capture it well enough in the photos, but the difference is quite striking in person. I didn't see it before because I planted at the top of the ridge and mostly look at the more recent growth.
Since the same plant has different 'symptoms' (it's pre coffee, can't think of words yet) maybe the environment has something to do with it? Where the seeds are planted is roughly 4 tonnes of goat manure with a smidgen of soil on top and drip irrigation, but further away from the source we get, the more compact clay the 'soil' is for the nodes to root in and no irrigation. Could this difference in soil have that much effect?
I have been watching a few moschata plants that I call "Fig-leaved moschata", They started out with typical (roundish) moschata leaves. And the fig-leaved trait developed on leaves that formed later in the season. If you ever wondered what to give me for my birthday...
I am super anxious to go to my other fields tomorrow that have maxima squash growing in them, to look for fig-leaved plants.
Here's what the hopiland maxima squash vines looked like:
Oh, and while I'm at it.... I noticed that the Hopi White squash fruits bear a striking resemblance to the sweet meat squash...
Hopi White Squash:
Hmmm, another possibility with the squash is that they don't want to over shade the soil and cool it off too much since they like warm soil to fruit.
Either way this whole thread is interesting and I'm planning to add something new to my small garden next year. As of right now we really only eat butternut and occasionally acorn squash.
I only planted Max squash this year, and maybe some butternut. The ones I think are butternut have a Moschata shape leaf and flower. The rest have a more Maxima leaf and flower. This one has a pointy, more star shape flower and a round fruit.
What is it?
Did my Max cross with my Mosch? Is it descendent of sweetmeat?