The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
August 14, 2013At this time of year the gardener is blessed with an abundance of squash. This uniquely American vegetable is the third member of the famous trio of corn, beans and squash known as the Three Sisters which forms the basis of the native diet. The name is only a corruption of the Algonquin, Isquoutersquash.
The most common squash in the American colonies is known as the simlin. This name seems to originate with Beauchamp Plantagenet’s work, A Description of New Albion (1648). While exploring the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay 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 most other Cucurbita is its growth habit. Richard Bradely described it in Dictionarium botanicum (1728): “The 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 squash was America’s first summer bush squash.
Generally known as the patty pan or scalloped squash today, the simlin is best harvested while the fruit is still small. Simlins left too long on the vine produce large seeds and a watery pulp. Thomas Mawe advised in 1797 that the simlin should be harvested when the size of “a walnut, or at most not bigger than a hen’s egg.
I will be away to the north for the next three weeks but will return in the second week of September to renew our conversation in the kitchen garden.