The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
September 12, 2012
We are harvesting the last of the summer crops before installing the winter garden in Williamsburg. This week we have had an abundance of simlin squash, known to modern gardeners as the patty-pan, or scalloped squash. This was the most commonly grown variety of squash in America and one of the first varieties imported to England. In 1597, John Gerard gave it the curious name of “buckler” because it was shaped “in a manner flat like unto a shield or buckler.” The buckler was a small round shield used to deflect sword strokes in an era before the longbow rendered such small shields obsolete.
In the American colonies it was known as the simlin (spelled many different ways). This name seems to originate with Beauchamp Plantagenet. While exploring the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay in 1648, he noted the natives growing “Symnels.” This name derived from the simnal cake, a small round cake decorated with balls of almond paste on its outer edge. Also known as the Mothering Cake, it has been prepared in England for Lent since mediaeval times.
The most striking difference between the simlin and the other squashes and pumpkins was its growth habit. Richard Bradely described it in Dictionarium botanicum (1728), “The Buckler, or Simnel Gourd: there is a manifest Difference, not only in the Fruit of this Form from the rest, but in the manner growing also, for it groweth upright, with great hollow rough hairy crested Stalks, to the height of three Cubits, and runneth not along the ground Ground as the rest.” The simlin was America’s first summer bush squash.
Many gardeners harvest the simlin at too mature a state. For best eating, Thomas Mawe advised in 1797 that the fruit should be harvested when the size of “a walnut, or at most not bigger than a hen’s egg.”
For a more complete guide to the growing of Cucurbits, we invite you to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press).