Claire’s Wee 18th Century Garden: The New England Pie Pumpkin

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Pie in the sky

jocasta11The word squash comes from an Algonquin word, askutasquash, which describes something eaten “green” or “unripe.”  While we now associate green squash with summer squashes all squashes, which includes what today we call pumpkins and winter squash, can be eaten “green” if picked young enough, around the size of a softball.  The New England Pie Pumpkin is a direct decedent of a squash once eaten green, but which, if allowed to ripen, developed a hard rind much like a gourd.

While you’d think to experience a taste of the 18th century you’d be waiting until you’ve got fat round orbs to make pies, muffins, soup, or sheep feed out of, in fact to experience a taste what Claire and Jamie would have harvested from their garden you’d harvest some of these while they are still small and green, and prepare them as you would a summer squash.

I love pumpkins but there is definitely no reference to pumpkins or squash in Hanna Glasse’s 1774 cookbook from Scotland. Which is too bad, I was looking forward to an exotic recipe for lamb shanks and askutasquash. You’re on your own, unless you can pressure Outlander Kitchen into creating something for Ian.

Pumpkins are grown much like cucumbers… only on better trellis supports if you’re growing up instead of out.  Support growing, and heavy, pumpkins by tying them up with lengths of cloth, like babies held by a stork, if you’re going vertical.  Otherwise, let them rock and roll around your yard.  Winter squash and pumpkins expansive growing habits will send them off for yards in a given direction and while their large wide leaves will suppress some weeds (and lawn) eventually the grasses will rise up in protest.  It’s a credit to the squash that come autumn, when the frosts cut the grasses down, there they’ll be, nestled in their nests, big fat squash ready for harvest.

It’s no wonder colonists seized on the squashes as the lifesavers they are.. for sheer pound to the effort involved, squash in general, and the larger ones in particular, offer an amazing nutritional and calorie wallop for the limited effort involved.

orange15The New England Pie is a long time favorite and standard for pies… nothing grows sweeter. The pumpkins grow small, 6-8 lbs; round, making them easy to handle (and the right size for a couple of pies) and are a good keeper.  It is the end of March and I still have one unspoiled New England Pie left in storage as a sort of experiment to see how long I can keep it.  All pumpkins are a bit watery, compared to their winter squash counterparts, but they are also sweeter, making them a favorite of children and sheep everywhere.

Unlike the other plants in Claire’s Wee Garden collection the pumpkin seeds prefer warm soil to germinate, but take much longer to reach maturity (likely one reason why they were harvested early as summer squash).  Plant in warmed soil in hills 3′ apart, in rows 4′ apart.. pumpkins need room to run.  Plant 3-6 seeds per hill and thin back to the strongest 3.  Mulch around your hill to suppress weeds and keep the soil watered, but don’t waterlog the poor things.  They don’t like wet feet.

Harvest some 18th century squash while they are still small and green.. and let the rest sprawl around the yard or up a trellis until they are fat, orange, and sassy.

While pumpkins feature in my 18th century garden I have a few other favorite squashes which aren’t grown as often as they should be:

  • The Blue Hubbard (sometimes called Hubbard Blue) is an enormous blue green squash which keeps virtually indefinitely and has a meaty orange flesh.  The squash is also loved, for some reason, by cucumber beetles, so can be planted as a trap for them.  The squash shrug them of in a way the cukes don’t.
  • Japanese Red Kuri Squash has become quite popular in the last few years, they’re also called  “Uchiki Kuri”, “Baby Red Hubbard” or “Orange Hokkaido.”  Coming in at 5-8 pounds they’ve got a dry nutty flavor unmatched by any other variety I grow, and are remarkably prolific, putting out multiple squash on a single vine.  This plant, however, knows no end and will grow right through an electric fence and into the sheep pasture.  Which doesn’t bode well for any squash deciding to turn orange at the end of that vine.. the sheep will eat them on sight.
  • Musquee De Provence Pumpkin is another not quite 18th century garden variety.. it was introduced into the United States in the late 19th century, but it is a distinctive pumpkin, carved with deep ribs and dressed in amazing color. It has a dry, thick, orange interior with a sweetly nutty flavor, keeps reasonably well.. but is a pain to cook because they can come in at a foot in diameter, and with those deep ribs and thick flesh are difficult to cut apart and impossible to peel.  Best whacked apart and baked, covered. Scoop out the flesh, let the rinds cool, and throw them to the chickens.The White Scallop Squash is a “patty pan,” and grown as a summer squash.  With it’s scalloped edges it is remarkably pretty but more to the point is a very ancient native American heirloom squash, grown by the northern Indians for hundreds of years. This type was depicted by Europeans back to 1591, and one of the best tasting and yielding varieties even today.
  • White Scallop Squash also known as a “patty pan” or “peti pan” is a deeply scalloped squash that looks like serrated flying saucer, eaten green, as a summer squash. It’s ancient native American heirloom squash, grown by the northern Indians for hundreds of years and was depicted by Europeans back to 1591. While other varieties have been developed this one remains one of the best tasting and yielding varieties even today.


Those who want to have a complete 18th century garden experience will want to read further… squash come in four distinct varieties and if you’re saving seed you’ll want to make sure you’re not planting two of the same variety in the same place, as they’ll cross pollinate.  But you can plant one of each of the four without risk. Read more about saving squash seed at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/heirloom-pumpkin-varieties-zewz1309zpit.aspx#ixzz2wwFuTWgl

Learn more about Claire’s 18th Century Garden

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