30 September 2009

Tennessee Ground Sweet Potato Squash

A famous garden speaker tells her audiences to never accept pass along plants because they obviously grow rampantly and fill the garden quickly.

Although she does not say it, she could add that pass along seeds also have the potential to create havoc in one’s garden.

Tennessee above ground sweet potato squash (Cucurbita argyrosperma, Cucurbita moschata, formerly C. mixta) is an heirloom vegetable that is being kept alive by gardeners, garden writers and seed saver exchanges.


I accepted a handful of seeds from Tulsa World garden writer Russell Studebaker who received them from a southern garden writer who was given five seeds by a Mississippi home gardener.
The vines, leaves, flowers and fruit are the largest ever seen by anyone who is growing them. The flowers are so large and so full of pollen that you can hear dozens of bees even when you are standing 3 feet away from the plants.


Other common names for this prolific grower include green striped bell, cushaw, and kershaw.
"Renewing America’s Food Traditions," by Gary Paul Nabhan, Chelsea Green Publishing, says that the common name cushaw comes from the Algonquin word coscushaw, used in 1580. At the time it was also called the Puritan squash. Another author said the original word for squash was askutasquash.


New York seed man Grant Thorburn called it green striped bell in his 1847 catalog. In 1883 W. Atlee Burpee Co. promoted the seeds as Tennessee sweet potato.


Since the plant resists squash vine borers, southern truck farmers relied on the fruits for fall plant sales. Sand Hill Preservation, D. Landreth Seed, South Carolina Foundation Seed Association and other seed preserving companies run out of the seeds every year.


The plants I grew from seed were distributed to a few local gardeners who planted them in their gardens this summer. Hopefully, they will save some of the seeds and pass them along.
Thomas Jefferson intentionally planted squash varieties close together to get natural hybrids. He wrote in 1790 about a potato-pumpkin named for its resemblance to the taste of sweet potatoes. It is assumed that slaves brought the seeds from Jamaica, West Indies. (See http://tinyurl.com/y8zp2se.)


The male flowers are stuffed and fried and the squash meat is used in both the light green immature stage and the mature light orange stage. At the light green stage the fruits are around 7 to 10 pounds and at the mature orange stage they weigh up to 25 pounds.
Much commercially canned pumpkin is actually Sweet Potato Squash and its close relatives. The plants grow well in any soil, are disease and insect resistant. Even the large fruit is not stringy like traditional pumpkins.

Photo - these two squash are about 15 pounds each - one is 15.35 pounds and the other is 14.95 pounds.

Tennessee ground sweet potato squash is heat and humidity tolerant. Growers from the deep south to Arizona and Mexico rely on growing it from year to year from saved seeds.


Traditionally, the meat is used for making a spicy butter and pumpkin pies. Louisiana Creole cooks just add syrup or sugar to use the cooked meat to bake into turnovers. Cajun cooks call the sweetened squash Juirdmon.

Juirdmon recipes vary but there are two at http://bit.ly/Bv2s6. The first one calls for 9 pounds of cushaw and the other one calls for a soccer ball sized squash.


Nutritional values for the squash are similar to other winter squash: Carotenes, minerals, Vitamins A, E and C. Without butter and sugar it is low calorie — 80 per cup.
There will be a few available at the Muskogee Farmers Market this weekend.

If you would like a copy of the recipes I have collected, send a request by e-mail to mollyday1@gmail.com.

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