How Native American Tribes Saved A Giant, Ancient Squash From Oblivion
An ancient variety of squash that was all but lost to history is now being rediscovered. Native Americans in the Great Lakes region have cultivated this squash for centuries, and now tribes are sharing the seeds with each other and with small farmers to bring the plant back.
Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Mich., is among those that acquired seeds from this mystery squash. And the farm's Sarah Hofman-Graham says they didn't know what to expect when they planted it last year.
"I definitely didn't have a firm idea of what kind of squash it was going to grow—or even what the plant was going to look like," she says. "It was just a fantastic surprise."
The seeds grew into massive bright orange squashes, each more than 2 feet long. Hofman-Graham invited me to a dinner party featuring a soup made from the ancient squash — it tasted sweet and mild.
The seeds passed through a couple of pairs of hands before they got to the farm. But they started with Paul DeMain, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the editor of News from Indian Country. DeMain says his seeds originally came from the Miami tribe in Indiana and are thought to be from a line that's somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 years old.
I wish the provenance was better. The story of the ancient clay pot unearthed during construction got linked here back when it was being reported as solid news, but obviously the NPR fact checkers could not corroborate it, and they alluded to a couple of other origin stories without sharing any of them. So for all we know this is a genetic sport or a hybrid that appeared in somebody's back yard in the last ten years and has been creatively "marketed". It would sure be nice to actually know where this seed was discovered or rediscovered!
This sounds similar to a winter squash that has been passed down through my family for more than a hundred years. Origin is lost, hungry people didn't worry about who passed on the seed. The vines can cover a large area, more than 20 ft radius. Leaves as large as dinner plates. Last time I planted, a single squash weighed 22 lbs and I pruned the vine with the lawn mower when it threatened to take over the whole yard. Neck is somewhat crooked, flesh is light orange and well flavored. We've come to call it jump back squash because of planting directions passed down, "Throw seed on the ground and jump back".
I conned a neighbor into letting me plant six year old seed in her yard and every single one came up. If this year's crop is successful, I will be happy to share seed and growing experience.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 4 years ago
I am always amused at stories like this... Because it seems to me, like the authors are using modern sensibilities about the definition of a variety, and using that to talk about ancient "varieties" when I think that nothing like modern varieties existed in the ancient world.
In other words, how can we save an "ancient" variety, when modern-like highly-inbred varieties didn't exist in the ancient world? And especially not with a species like squash!!!
That's what made the story about seeds found in a six hundred year old clay pot so much fun. Not truly "ancient" and the germination seemed ... fortuitous shall we say, but recovering a food crop variety that skipped 30 human generations of annual selection would be like a glimpse backward in time.
With no provenance, there's really no story, there's just a fine-looking squash.
now tribes are sharing the seeds with each other and with small farmers to bring the plant back.
. I am not sold on this story being "truthful" because;
Firstly, the different tribes of that area would have engaged in trade and they would have started this trade long before any Europeans showed up on Turtle Island.
Seeds were always one of the top trading items, since they represent many different things to us, they are a precious item and held great value.
Secondly, the squash would have been planted every year that the pony soldiers didn't stop them from growing food.
Seeds would have been carefully saved and stored for the next years planting as well as for trading to other tribes.
Now the clans are sharing seeds, this is a good thing.