Around the World in 80 Plates: Exploring for Squash

It’s autumn, which means harvest-time, and yummy squash to eat! But where do squash plants come from? Who found them first and decided to eat them, then discovered they were delicious and shared them with all their friends? Let’s go with Captain Create to find out!

“Squash” comes from the Narragansett and Wampanoag Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked.” 1 These Northeastern Tribes weren’t the only people to grow and eat squash, but they were the first people to share them with the European Colonists and the word “squash” stuck in the English language from there.

All squash, commonly referred to as “pumpkins”, “gourds” and “squashes” originated in the New World and their range extends from the central United States south to Argentina, with the widest variety growing in Mexico, which is believed to be the origination point.2 The Native Americans were expert traders and travelers, and so the seeds were traded and traveled with them all across the continent. The first known record of squash in Europe did not occur until 1591.2

As colonists learned to grow and eat the squash the Native Americans had grown and eaten since the beginning of their history, the seeds were spread, saved, and shared. As history happened, and was not nice to the indigenous people, their crops and seeds were lost or stolen frome them over time. Now though, there are many seed saving networks, historical documents, and long-told stories to describe the plants and seeds and to re-connect the seeds with their original caretakers.

Henrietta Gomez and Gilbert Suazo, Sr., receive a Taos Pueblo squash in 2018. ANDI MURPHY

“To us, seeds are our relatives,” says Rowen White, an Indigenous seed keeper, who was born near Canada in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne. In 2016, she created the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, a group of more than 100 tribal seed-sovereignty projects whose members are looking for their missing relatives. If you know someone who is Native American, ask them if they know about the seeds and foods their ancestors cared for, and find out if there is an opportunity to try them, or to learn to grow them so that you can share the story of the seeds and food.

There are lots of squash plants out and about whether they are heirloom or hybrid types, and many are available in stores and farmers markets near you. Try some this year and consider growing your own squash plants in the spring in your yard or in a pot on the porch.

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