III: Winter Squash

A tall tale and a true story about an indigenous squash.

III: Winter Squash
Winter squash. Photo by Cate Bligh / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is tridi, the 13th of Vendémiaire, Year CCXXXI. Today we celebrate le potiron, a pumpkin that stands too tall for Halloween. (Don't worry, the spooky one's coming a bit later, as you'd expect.)

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The difference between a summer squash and a winter squash is in the rind. Summer squash – think zucchini – have soft rinds and are meant to be eaten by smaller animals, while winter squash – like spaghetti squash and pumpkins – have hard rinds that discourage munching until the seeds are as big as possible, at which point they burst and scatter the pulp and seeds as a come-hither for bigger mammals. Rodents and raccoons typically don't bother waiting, of course.

In 2008, archaeologists working on Menominee land in Wisconsin made a startling discovery. Inside a small clay pot the size of an ash tray, they found 850-year-old seeds. Remarkably, the seeds were found to still be viable, and students at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg were successfully able to revive an ancient pumpkin species long thought to be extinct.

With a thinner rind and a sweet, almost melon-like taste, the remarkable squash grew up to 30 pounds and was scientifically dubbed cucurbita maxima, but given a more evocative name of Gete Okosomin, an Anishinaabe phrase meaning "cool old squash."

An incredible story! Literally. This tale, which has been repeated – complete with pictures of the clay pot holding pumpkin seeds – in various media outlets of high reputation around the world, is absolute hogwash.

Which is a shame, because the actual story of this unaltered and delicious winter squash is even more impressive, and the difference between the two stories says a lot about how North Americans prefer to regard the indigenous people of the continent.