To have a place to talk about food, food follies, recipes, garden lore, historical garden & food lore, climate & weather, natural selection, food selection, building health and so on. To skewer the silly, serve up the savory and garnish with gleanings from the news. To flame, to flesh out the facts, to farm the fun, to portion out the passion and perfect the presentation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The pre-history of squash - guess where it came from!

To the reader: The links in this post include references, photos, recipes, and books. I could have displayed the photos but not without the danger of violating copyright laws. I hope you enjoy them on the linked sites, especially the ones linked to the story about the San Xavier mission.

Squash appears to be a New World plant. All the earliest archaeological finds of the cultivation of squash have occurred somewhere in the middle Americas. (This is not true of melons and gourds close relatives of squash.) Here are some interesting facts about the early cultivation of squash:
South of Tucson, out in the broad floodplain of the Santa Cruz river, a cathedral rises up like a vision. It is called San Xavier del Bac, a mission founded by Father Eusebio Kino in about 1650. Next to this lovely building is a small museum. Photos of traditional agriculture show temporary shelters where Tohono O'odham farmers rested during the flood season, when they could take advantage of the seasonal monsoons to irrigate their crops. 

They grew what had been grown there for millennia, namely squash, corn, chilies, tepary beans, and a few others. These formed their diet, along with the occasional deer or javelina (wild relative of the pig). 

When the rains stopped, the community moved to more hospitable living quarters back in their home communities.

When Europeans arrived and set up the mission, they were unfamiliar with the seasonal migration routine and prevailed upon the Tohono O'odham to settle down into their communities and no longer follow the seasonal planting cycle.

So the Desert People had no choice but to begin to eat the foods the Europeans ate. Today the Tohono O'odham have the highest incidence of diabetes of any Native American community. 

Outside the museum, surrounding the entrance to the cathedral, booths made of native plants serve traditional chili and (perhaps not so traditional) fry bread to tourists. It alone is worth the visit.


  1. Thanks Peg. I'm excited about this project and your wealth of knowledge. The only place I have to grow anything at the moment is at 7500' and has a short growing season. Can squash be grown that high? How many days is it's growing season? I'm thinking I'm going to have to put in a small hot house or something? Any thoughts or comments particularly about the altitude?

  2. That's a lot of altitude! Perhaps more important is your latitude, which you can look up on Google. Just type in your town's name plus "latitude" - that has worked for me. Eliot Coleman makes the case that with a low enough latitude (close enough to the equator) you can get enough sunlight to capture enough heat to keep things alive year round. But squash is so big! I can't imagine putting a single plant under glass! I would pick a short season squash, start it indoors, and then put it in your sunniest - and least wind-blown - place. And let us know how it goes! Photos welcome....


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