Heirloom Squashes and Pumpkins

Heirloom Squashes and Pumpkins

Part of Ep. 1404 Harvest Traditions

We travel to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa to sample some heirloom squashes and pumpkins. Diane Whealey teaches viewers all about heirloom plants and why it's so important to keep them.

Premiere date: Nov 01, 2006

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Once in a while, the Wisconsin Gardener leaves Wisconsin to visit someplace very special.  We're at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.  We're here to learn about heirlooms.  If you're interested in heirloom tomatoes or flowers you've got to come and visit this place it's wonderful.  I'm with one of the co-founders, Diane Whealy.  In case you can't tell, I love this place. 

Diane:
Well, welcome to Iowa, Wisconsin Gardener.  We may not share the same football team but we do share the same garden zones. 

Shelley:
And what's important. 

Diane:
It is absolutely important. 

Shelley:
What has Seed Savers been doing?  I know you've been at this for a while now. 

Diane:
We've been doing Seed Savers for 30 years.  We founded Seed Savers with one variety of seed, my Grandpa Ott's morning glory that's trying to survive the frost on the side of the barn.  It's been hit three times with frost.  We started with one variety of seed and now we have 24,000 different varieties that we're permanently maintaining here at Heritage Farm. 

Shelley:
Why keep them?  Why 24,000?  I think of seeds for the flavor.  But there are other reasons to keep these. 

Diane:
There's genetic diversity that we're seeing right here is one.  The history associated with the seed is important.  If we hadn't collected, a lot of these would be lost. 

Shelley:
Which right there would be a crime.  Well, let's talk about what is an heirloom.  Let's define that. 

Diane:
An heirloom is a seed that's been passed down from generation to generation like a piece of furniture or a piece of jewelry.  From one family generation to the next.  The difference is we have to keep the seed collection alive.  Where a family heirloom, or piece of furniture you could dust it once in a while or put the jewelry away in a jewelry box, but we have to keep this growing. 

Shelley:
So, what do you do to keep the seeds viable? 

Diane:
To keep the seeds viable, we grow them out about every ten years.  We grow about a 10th of the collection out so about 2,400 different varieties will be growing out right here and harvesting fresh seed and putting the fresh seed back into the seed bank. 

Shelley:
And we can buy some of these seeds for some of the things we're looking at. 

Diane:
Right, all of the seed we're talking about today of different squash and gourds are available in our catalog. 

Shelley:
Tomatoes was the heirloom that hooked me for flavor.  But I know some of these pumpkins and squashes have equally fantastic stories and flavors. 

Diane:
They do. 

Shelley:
Let's start with this one. 

Diane:
This one is the Amish Pie.  We are saving 1,200 different varieties of squash so this is one of my favorites.  And this is a small one.  Usually, the size of the squash can be 60-80 pounds. 

Shelley:
We'd need a bigger bench. 

Diane:
Yes, we definitely would.  That's a good quality, because you can process one squash and have enough for the community.  But we like it, because it has a bright orange color plus it freezes and cans well so you can use it all winter long. 
Shelley:
This is the flavor that I first discovered.  Somebody gave me a piece of pie made with Amish Pie and I've never had normal pumpkin pie again. 

Diane:
Yeah, you don't need any of the spices.  You just need the pumpkin, the flavor comes out. 

Shelley:
But it takes up a heck of a lot of room. 

Diane:
It does.  And if you don't have a whole yard or field to devote to one variety of squash, this one might be better.  This one is Cheyenne Bush. 

Shelley:
Oh, a bush one? 

Diane:
It's a bush, and I grew it right over there in these small, little raised beds.  One plant will have five to ten pumpkins this size.  So, they're wonderful for children to watch grow in the garden and for carving for Halloween.  The eating quality is not as good. 

Shelley:
So, something to think about.  This one, I love the stripes. 

Diane:
Tennessee Sweet Potato.  This one was in commercial seed companies in the late 1800s, and then disappeared from commercial seed trade.  We were able to find it again and have it alive and well, and growing, and offered in our seed catalog. 

Shelley:
It tastes like sweet potatoes. 

Diane:
It's a really, really good flavor. 

Shelley:
And this one is just so darn cute. 

Diane:
I know, Thelma Sanders Squash.  This is a family heirloom, as we were talking about.  It came into the collection from a couple in Ohio and it had no name.  They've just been passing it down generations.  So, we asked if we could name it for whom they got it from, Thelma Sanders. 

Shelley:
What a legacy.  And good flavor, again. 

Diane:
Good flavor, and a nice size. 

Shelley:
Let's see if I can, this is French, Potimarron.  "Marron" means chestnut. 

Diane:
Yes, it has a chestnut flavor.  It's just wonderful.  It's so easy to prepare.  Because the skin is softer, you can cut it easier.  You don't need a chainsaw to break into it! 

Shelley:
I've done some of those! 

Diane:
The flesh is bright orange, like the outside.  It's very decorative. 

Shelley:
Very pretty, and good flavor, too.  We've got to talk about some of the gourds that are much more decorative.  This one has been driving me crazy, look at that! 

Diane:
Yeah, this one is one of my favorites.  It's a Bule Gourd from France.  It's like the Apple Gourd that maybe some of you are familiar with but it has a warty complexion. 

Shelley:
Look at that!  I'd love to put a bird house in that. 

Diane:
That works really well for that.  This one is called Little Man.  It's just a plain, simple gourd. 

Shelley:
I like the beauty of that one. 

Diane:
Then we go to the not-so-simple.  This one is Yugoslavian Finger Fruit.  We've been trying to find a pure strain for this one for many, many years.  We finally found it.  So, this will be offered in our catalog, as well.  It starts out creamy white and turns into a nice yellow.  It's very easy to store all winter long. 

Shelley:
It's kind of edible. 

Diane:
It's more decorative. 

Shelley:
The last one is like a caveman's club.  Look at that. 

Diane:
Yes, Dinosaur Gourd.  Definitely not edible.  When we first moved to Decorah, we grew this for seed production and we had a bumper crop.  And my daughters, who were in second and third grade brought 30 or 40 of them to school.  And I meet parents on the street today who say they still have it.  It dries, it fossilizes.  But it's so wonderful.  You can use it for bird houses. 

Shelley:
Oh, yeah, anything, ornamentation.  These are just a few we get to choose from.  Thank you so much for sharing this.  My pleasure.

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