Lessons from Little Women: The History of the Squash


Durham Farmer's Market“Over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil best left undisturbed,” quoth John Brooke to Laurie, in the movie “Little Women.”

Every Christmas, to get into the holiday mood, I watch the movie “Little Women,” and pull back that veil to reveal Jo, Meg, Beth, Amy, and Marmee’s life in Concord. I go “a wassailing” down the lane to take Christmas breakfast to the Hummels, I hold my breath as Jo and Teddy hold a rail to a flailing Amy to rescue her from the freezing water. I (figuratively) paint on a mustache and become one of the sisters, reenacting Jo’s writing, playing scandalous scenes in the attic of the Orchard House, reading excerpts from the Pickwick Society paper, “baring our souls and telling the most appalling secrets.”

This year, as my friend and I sipped gluhwein and watched “Little Women” by the twinkle light of the trimmed tree, I paused when Amy read Beth’s contribution to the paper, “The History of the Squash.”

“Why Beth!” Amy exclaimed, “This isn’t a story! It’s a recipe.” Beth sighs, “I never know what to write.”

I laughed, and first said, “That’s something I would write!”

And then, “Huh.  I wonder, what is  the history of the squash?”

According to the Library of Congress (LOC), the word “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked.” Their shells likely used as bowls, the gourds are some of the oldest vegetables we still eat (though not raw), having been traced back some 10,000 years in places in Mexico.

Also reported by the LOC, “Northeastern Native American tribes grew pumpkins, yellow crooknecks, patty pans, Boston marrows (perhaps the oldest squash in America still sold), and turbans. Southern tribes raised winter crooknecks, cushaws, and green and white striped sweet potato squashes. Native Americans roasted or boiled the squashes and pumpkins and preserved the flesh as conserves in syrup. They also ate the young shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds.”

So Beth, writing away in that cold attic during the long, snowy Massachusetts winter, could have written a powerful story of the history of the squash: one about the Native Americans in her neck of the woods, and the European settlers who quickly adapted and adopted squash as a winter staple.

Do you grow squash in your garden? It’s a seasonal vegetable, and though it has a tough-looking skin, it has a sensitive side, and, per the Old Farmer’s Almanac, can be susceptible to frost and heat damage.  Visit the Almanac to learn about starting your seeds indoors, and transplanting them into your garden soil when it has reached 55 – 60 degrees. Winter squash is a vine, and will need a little more room to grow.

What’s your favorite squash recipe for the winter?  Sometimes it’s as simple as a bowl of butternut squash soup on a cold night, with a hunk of crusty bread and glass of wine. Bon Appetit has yummy recipes online here.  Tell us your favorite!  Leave a note here, or tweet at @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.

(And who’s going to curl up with the bowl of soup and a copy of “Little Women?”)


(Photo: IMDBIndyWeek.com)