Two Heirloom Summer Squashes


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Among squashes there are four species commonly grown as vegetables, Cucurbita maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata and C. pepo.  The top photo above shows an English heirloom summer squash, ‘Vegetable Marrow’.  This variety is classified as a member of species C. pepo, the same species as spaghetti squash and zucchini. Varieties of C. pepo were grown in New England by Native Americans and ‘Vegetable Marrow’ arrived in England long ago, but I have not been able to ascertain the date of introduction.  It is not included in Gerard’s The Herball of 1596.  Fearon Burr, in his Book Field and Garden Vegetables of America, of 1865, described ‘Vegetable Marrow’, “The skin, or shell, is very hard when the fruit is perfectly ripened; flesh white, tender, and succulent, even till the seeds are ripe.  It may be used at any stage of its growth.”  Peter Henderson, in Gardening for Profit, published in 1865, classes it as a winter squash, perhaps because it continues to produce over a long season.  His description follows: “The skin is greenish yellow; flesh white, soft, and of rich flavor; very distinct from all of the preceding.”  (This variety was last on a descriptive list of several varieties).

The second picture above is of stuffed and cooked ‘Vegetable Marrow’ from my garden.  The English prepare the dish by stuffing the fruits with bread crumbs, onions, nuts and sometimes sausage.  I must say it was absolutely delicious, with a very mild flavor and soft texture.  I plan to grow it every year: it is a fairly small, bushy plant, produces early and heavily and tolerates cool as well as warm weather.  The first fruits should mature in about 55 days.  The plants in my garden grew to about three feet in all directions.

The third picture above is of ‘Boston Marrow’.  It is a member of the Cucurbita maxima species, which originated in the Andes.  This species also includes buttercup, Hubbard and banana squashes, among others.  A nineteenth century seed catalog from D.M. Ferry lists ‘Boston Marrow’ and gives a good description, “Of oval form; skin thin; when ripe, bright orange, flesh rich salmon yellow, very dry, fine-grained and for sweetness and excellence, unsurpassed; a very popular variety in the Boston Market.”  Peter Henderson (1865) considered it as a “second early” squash, after ‘Yellow and White Scalloped’ and ‘Summer Crook Neck’.  This variety was the first squash to ripen in my garden; the plant grew very fast and eventually reached about eight feet in width and length and about four feet in height.  The plant likes full sun if possible and good air circulation.  The squash fruits are keeping well, but I have not cooked any yet.

If you are saving seed from squashes, remember that the four species of squash will cross with one another , except that C. maxima does not cross with C. mixta or C. pepo.  This means that to keep an heirloom or any open-pollinated variety true each kind must be isolated (grown separately) by 1 1/2 to 2 miles, unless you have plantings of one variety each of C. mixta and C. pepo, which cannot cross-pollinate.


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