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Why would native Americans have planted and dried summer squash as opposed to winter squash?  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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In one of Carol Deppe's books, she mentioned that various groups of Native Americans would dry summer (immature) squash for the winter. It sounds like they put quite a bit of effort into this; it was not a sideline. They also grew winter squash for winter storage, and would dry the ones that didn't make it all the way to maturity.

Now, I can see growing summer squash to fill the hungry gap sooner. And drying leftovers and immature winter squash is also easy to get. But why would have they specially planted "summer" types and put a lot of work into drying them? Given hypothetical ideal conditions, a hundred square feet of summer squash can produce 36,100 calories in a summer, and a hundred square feet of winter squash can produce 63,350 calories in a summer. And those winter squash don't need the extra work of slicing and drying.

Now, it is true that I just took the hypothetical weight of squash produced and multiplied by calories per pound, ignoring any effects of the seed cavity. This would matter more for winter squash. Then again, winter squash seeds are fairly calorie dense in their own right, so they should still come out ahead.

Could this strategy be used because given a less then optimal year, the summer squash would at least produce something and the winter squash would't? A classic example of a low yielding but resilient crop alongside a high yielding but less resilient one?
 
Galen Young
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Do you have any indigenous tribal members near you that you could ask?

Our farm is adjacent to tribal land, and we know a number of tribal members here, but this tribe was not involved with growing crops before the colonial era. Some of them are very active today with gardening, but it is something they learned more from the Cooperative Extension Office.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:why would have they specially planted "summer" types and put a lot of work into drying them?


The pepo species is typically eaten as a summer squash. They only store for a couple months before they get too nasty tasting to want to eat. It would make sense to dehydrate them to extend the time that they are palatable. Maxima winter squash might store for about 3 to 5 months. And moschata winter squash often store well for 6 months to a year. A dehydrated summer squash will store for years.

An immature squash is much easier to slice than a mature squash. A mature maxima squash often has a skin that is almost woody.

Growing 3 to 5 species of squash with different culinary traits, growth patterns, and different susceptibilities to bugs, weather, and diseases would minimize the possibility of complete failure of all squash species. So I speculate that each different species was good for a different kind of eating, just like they are today. And that growing multiple species that are used in different ways made the food system more reliable.
 
William Schlegel
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I wonder if Carol might have been referring specifically to the squash section of "Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden".

The presumably pepo (edit I was incorrect in my presumption) Hidatsa squash landrace described in the book was actually multiple purpose and provided at least 5 food products. Squash blossoms, immature immediate eating squash, immature dried squash, winter squash, and squash seeds.

The tribe moved to a winter home not long after squash harvest. The remaining Winter squash weren't taken with but left in caches.

I grew the similar landrace Mandan pepo squash from Sandhill this year and let them all mature for seed. Ate the first one a few days ago as a mature squash. Tasted alot like acorn squash but was a bit thin fleshed. They don't perfectly match the description of the Hidatsa landrace. I don't know if that landrace is extant. (Edit: if they were Maxima their are maxima squash still attributed to the three tribes of the upper Missouri by the names of Arikara, Hidatsa, And Knife River).
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Mandan squash I picked today
 
Jim Fry
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First of all, there is no one answer to your question. A nation of people are defined, in part, by having a common "governance" system, culture, food, language, housing, "religious" practice, customs, etc. By some estimates there were 500 nations of people across what later became known as the Americas. Those peoples and nations were as different from each other as the people of Norway are different from Moroccans. And their nations stretched over a much wider area than Europe/N. Africa covers. So, to the question of why did "Indian" people do something, ...there are lots of answers.

But, one answer is that when there are no stores where any needed item can be picked up at a moments notice, and each person, family, band, tribe, nation is responsible for their own survival, including food, shelter, warmth, clothing and such, then you spend a whole lot of time preparing for the future. If you have to produce and preserve all your own food, then you better not count on any one crop or storage method to feed you for a whole year until that one crop comes in again. Plus, if you are producing all your own food, variety in how it is stored, how it tastes, what nutritional value it has, and the timing of when you pick, plant, harvest, store all have meaning. It's not really a question of what crop produces the most "calories". Its more a question of how many calories can I produce by any method and on any given day, so we can eat all year (and perhaps the following year if some disaster hurts the next years food possibilities).
 
William Schlegel
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Gilbert Wilson thought the squash Buffalo Bird Woman described was a maxima.

https://books.google.com/books?id=QQyeAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT4&lpg=PT4&dq=hidatsa+ethnobotany&source=bl&ots=2aC4rI0Ohn&sig=6lDSAnzXzynhI9LjDp8KlxjyM4g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiql466lpLWAhVpx1QKHWFNCdgQ6AEIOjAF#v=snippet&q=hidatsa%20squash&f=false

I already have a maxima Hidatsa squash it doesn't have the full landrace diversity described though. Lovely winter squash- will have to try it as a summer squash.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Here's a squash photo from Buffalo Bird Woman's book. It looks to me, like she might have been growing 4 species of squash all jumbled together. Which would be conducive to making inter-species hybrids from time to time. I've marked on a photo what looks to me like typical leaves of the commonly grown squash species.

Hidatsa-Indian-woman-hoeing-squash-with-a-bone-hoe-edited.jpg
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Hidatsa woman hoeing squash. Four species growing together?
Hidatsa-Indian-woman-hoeing-squash-with-a-bone-hoe.jpg
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Hidatsa woman hoeing squash
 
David Livingston
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Some folks had hones for winter use and summer use making it difficult to grow crops all year round -dried pumpkins is so much easier to move
 
Michael Cox
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I'm sure that protecting against crop failure also had something to do with it.  It was better to be over provisioned in case of hard times, than under provisioned, so preserving surplus from one season to the next would have been critical.
 
Larisa Walk
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Dried squash, besides being lighter and easier to transport, also take up way less space when stored. Maybe easier to protect from vermin, especially if you don't have ideal storage conditions? It would have been a challenge to provide a long-term, 50-60*F, dry storage spot for squash, even if rodents weren't a problem, but dehydrated squash will keep easily much longer if kept dry. BTW, we dehydrate the zucchini Costata Romanesco and it tastes good in soups and tomato sauces. A nice change of pace and makes for a more interesting table during Minnesota winters. And in our garden this zuke variety probably outproduces the winter squash in terms of pounds/square feet over the course of the summer and our resident rodent population leaves them alone, preferring some of the other winter squash types.
 
William Schlegel
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Picked some squash today. Hidatsa, Hidatsa crossed with Rio Lucio, Lofthouse squash, and a couple others like a little pile of zucchini colored lofthouse moschatas and a squash I think is a cross with a buttercup.

Plus a few more squash pictures.
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Today's Haul
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Big one and some buttercups
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Last weeks haul
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Lofthouse mospermia 1
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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William Schlegel wrote:a little pile of zucchini colored lofthouse moschatas and a squash I think is a cross with a buttercup.


The green skinned trait came into my moschata squash landrace from Long-of-Naples and Black Futsu.  Here's a photo of Long of Naples.


My buttercup squash originated from Burgess Buttercup. The orange stripes came into my buttercup landrace from Red Kuri, and/or Turk's Turban.


I have been working on adding light gray and pink to my buttercup landrace. This year the new population is finally at the right phenotype. I'm merging the two populations into a single landrace. Don't have a current photo, but here's what some of the family looked like a couple of years ago.

 
William Schlegel
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Here's a squash photo from Buffalo Bird Woman's book. It looks to me, like she might have been growing 4 species of squash all jumbled together. Which would be conducive to making inter-species hybrids from time to time. I've marked on a photo what looks to me like typical leaves of the commonly grown squash species.



Things were a bit muddled already at the time of the book. My copy has the following caption for this photo "Sioux Woman, Goodbird's wife, hoeing squash to demonstrate the use of a bone hoe, 1912 (photographed by Gilbert Wilson; Minnesota Historical Society 9448-A)"

So according to the introduction Like A Fishhook village was broken up and allotments began in 1885-1888

Gilbert Wilson first visited in 1906

Goodbird was Buffalo Bird Woman's son so this is Goodbird's wife hoeing to demonstrate an at the time old fashioned bone hoe.

In the squash section of the book there is a passage with the heading "Squashes, Present Seed" where buffalo bird woman says that she grew the squash up until four years ago in Goodbird's garden but stopped because his family wasn't eating them. Then she saved some seed from a volunteer and gave that seed to Gilbert.

In chapter XII Since White Men Came she mentions the government issuing them seeds of "big squashes". Which she deemed inferior.

However it's not clear which the squash in the picture could have been in 1912 and where it originated. Gilbert published the account first in 1917 his research was conducted from 1906 to 1918, a 12 year period- 11 if we take off the year after publication. So depending on when she stopped growing the historic squash this squash in the photo could be the historic squash, the descendent of a single volunteer, or a squash / squashes from the government or other modern (at the time) source.

Extant squashes Maxima "Arikara, Hidatsa, knife river" and pepo squash "Mandan" are attributed to the three tribes of the upper Missouri.

I think I read somewhere that acorn and patty pan might have come from their genetics as well.



 
Dado Scooter
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At a cob oven workshop last weekend, I met someone that worked in restoring Native American food systems.  I was commenting that I get an urge to be nomadic sometimes, but I just bought property and working on a permaculture food forest system, and the two thoughts seemed to be at odds with each other.  He told me that the Native Americans in the northern plains were nomadic but they had gardens along their migration path.   Life before recorded deeds and individual land ownership.  This is just a thought connection I got while reading this thread and maybe has nothing to do with the reality, but maybe the summer squash was what they were able to grow in a short time period before they moved to their next plot?  They were living Holistic Management for themselves I guess.
 
Mary Saunders
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It might have been quicker to dry summer, as less dense solids in them. Also, easier to work with. I say this because cutting a 30-pound winter can be kind of a samurai/sumo experience. I had some whopper volunteers one year. It was a job to cut them to use-size.
 
William Schlegel
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Mary Saunders wrote:It might have been quicker to dry summer, as less dense solids in them. Also, easier to work with. I say this because cutting a 30-pound winter can be kind of a samurai/sumo experience. I had some whopper volunteers one year. It was a job to cut them to use-size.


I bet it had more to do with the time of year and opportunity. The squash were multipurpose. Drying them as summer squash in summer time worked best for that storage method because the rain free hot sunny days good for sun drying fall in the summer. It sounds like they moved in the winter and the winter squash often went bad either because they froze in the lodge or because of poor cache construction. I say this while I wonder where to store a third pickup load of winter squash! Also they are heavy!
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Third load
 
Xisca Nicolas
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I don't know what makes this : dried young summer squashes get a mushroom flavour that mature winter squash do not have.

-> Different taste and maybe different nutrition?

I like the 1st arguments that you know what you have now and cannot secure that next crop will succeed or fail. You need some security when you rely little on others and stores...
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Thanks for all the discussion everyone! It is fascinating.
 
S. G. Botsford
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Squash hybridize like crazy.  I think there are 4 groups.  People who grow seeds only grow one member of each group in a season unless they have quarantine systems in place (row cover, greenhouse....)

If growing winter squash I can see preference for breeds that are small.  While breaking open any winter squash is tough when raw, they are a lot easier to deal with cooked.  So having a size that allowed you to cook it whole would make sense.

My own experience with winter squash is that storing whole squash in humid root cellar at 35-40F works until about February, when they go soft and moldy. Now most of the natives that did the squash and corn routine lived in a warmer climate.  Could be that winter squash don't keep well.

In either case my bet is that they grew multiple types of squash, drying some for late winter, keeping some for fall, and eating some off the vine.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Im not sure about the idea of the small squash being more user friendly.  Indigenous cooking methods and lifestyle/culture differ from ours considerably.  While smaller squash might seem more user friendly to the modern kitchen/household, when pit baking and when serving a larger group at a summer camp location there might be some efficiency towards large squash.  It certainly immediately came to mind that food security was the prime concern... followed directly by easy to dry, easy to store, easy to carry. Variety of course... is the spice of life.... so there's also that. A bunch of dried or fresh squash in the skin bag suspended over the fire would go a long way towards sweetening up the (often bitter) roots and greens being stewed for the evening meal.
 
William Schlegel
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To my knowledge All squash in the Cucurbita pepo/maxima/moshata/mixta-agrosperma group have Native American origins. I suspect different tribes had different life ways and methods of squash use and storage. The Hidatsa life way and squash size preferences are pretty well documented in "Buffalo Bird Woman's garden". For the Hidatsa Buffalo bird woman straight up said they had trouble with the squash freezing and going bad and that they moved in winter and didn't bring the winter squash and put it in a cache instead. If you look at the southwest tribes squash diversity available from native seed search in Tucson you see way more diversity in size. I think that just shows that a more southerly tribe which lived in permanent structures could store winter squash inside better.

 
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