By JOYCE COMINGORE
Pumpkins are a thing that inspires a child's mind. The nursery rhyme "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater," like all Old English chants that are supposedly built on historical events or situations as a way of spreading gossip about their royalty, no longer has any bearing on our present day lives, but the chant lives on. As do many of the chants different interpretations.
According to sources, Peter was, supposedly, a poor man with an unfaithful wife. His Middle Ages solution was a chastity belt (pumpkin shell), a piece of metal underwear with a lock and key only he possessed. Or, as some say, he killed her, cremated her and stuffed her ashes in a pumpkin. Times were so much harsher in those days, and these facts were not to be remembered, just the rhymes.
Or, how about the tale of Cinderella and her Pumpkin Carriage, a visual image we all carry around in our heads from childhood. As we mature, visions of pumpkins dancing in our heads, become pies, cakes, souffls and desserts or Jack-o-lanterns and fall decorations to cheer us on for the holidays. Halloween or Thanksgiving, they've become symbols of feast and plenty.
A long while back, I wrote about the differences between pumpkins, squash and gourds. Now, we are trying to grow them in the gardens at Trafalgar Middle School. The seeds were planted and the rains came, backing up in many of the beds, flooding them. So we need to try again, hopefully after all these seasonal rains, but late for Halloween or Thanksgiving.
The difference as explained to me was - "Gourds are to look at, squash are to eat and pumpkins are to carve." Well, I like to eat pumpkin pies, so, I find that many places consider pumpkin a squash. Australians consider all squash as pumpkins. The differences can be told by the stems. They, along with melons and cucumbers, are in the Curcubita family.
However, there is also the matter of - is it a summer squash or a winter squash? Summer squash are sold in the winter market and winter squash are sold in the late summer or fall. It dates back to times when seasons were more crucial to man's survival than now. "Good keepers" were winter squash that kept 'til December. Summer squash have thin soft skins and seeds that are edible, easily damaged and perish quickly, whereas winter squash have hard shells and store well. Winter squash have hollows in their center, with the seeds removed.
I am interested in growing the Seminole pumpkin.
Pumpkins and their family are 100 percent American in origin. In 1528, when explorer Panfilo de Narvaez was on his expedition in Tallahassee, Fla., he saw Seminole pumpkins hanging from trees being cultivated by Seminole Indians. Seminole means "wild people" or "runaway" because many American Indians joined them when they were hiding in the swamps from the American soldiers, but are mainly comprised of Creek, Miccosukee, and Calusa Indians. Since pumpkins were one of five plants essential to the American Indians' diet, early soldiers tried to destroy all the American Indians' food in order to bring them out into the open. There for awhile, Seminole pumpkins could only be found in the remote Everglades. It is now listed as an endangered Native American vegetable, one of 10 most endangered American foods by RAFT.
The Creek word for these pumpkins was "chassa-howitska," meaning "hanging pumpkin." The botanical name is Cucubita maschata, meaning musk-scented bottle gourd. Being great climbers, the vines were planted at the base of trees the Seminoles had girdled to leave a dead pole for the vine to climb up into the branches where the pumpkins hung like ornaments, ripe for picking.
Actually, the Seminole pumpkin is more closely related to the butternut or calabaza squash, and even though it's considered a vegetable in cooking, botanically speaking, squash is a fruit (being the receptacle for the plants seeds).
When planting the seeds, do three to a hill, 1/2 to 1 inch deep, hills 5 to 6 feet apart, then thin to the best one when they sprout. They prefer plenty of organic matter and plenty of lime. Water well to start. Never water from overhead late in the day, it encourages stem blight. Fortunately, this plant resists powdery mildew. The leaves have mottled white spots on them naturally. So be assured, they are not mildew. It almost totally resists vine bores, some shade is helpful, but they love the sun. Remember there are male and female blossoms on each vine. The males come first and abort naturally.
Battered and fried, the male blossoms are delectable, the stewed fresh tip shoots and leaves are edible and you have the squash to eat. Three types of meals.
Fertilize to start, but not later so you don't have all leaves and no blooms for fruit. Nematodes may come and plug up the roots, but as the vine covers the ground, the nodes root and give fresh vines new vigor, so water all the stems length. Take care not to plant other squash nearby if you want to keep the seeds. They cross pollinate. Bees are necessary for pollination, blossoms and fruit. The vines do freeze.
Their fruit is light beige, lightly ribbed, around three pounds, with orange flesh internally and are very sweet, a real treat.
Fruits store longer if the stem is left on the fruit during harvest.
There is one nagging little worm in the back of my head. In only one place did I find a reference to them being photo-periodic plants - plants that bloom in the Fall Equinox. They might need the light change of coming shorter days. If so, I may need to switch to calabaza or Cuban squash/pumpkin or not. Ah, another story for another day.
I really don't feel like saying, "Oh stuff it, Peter."
I'll find a tree to thank for my fresh air.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.