For the love of gourd

Do you know your triambles from your sibleys? Amy Goldman certainly does. Here, the passionate pumpkin picker reveals why there's more to squash than the humble butternut and courgette

I'd like to coin a new term:
Cucurbitacean (kyoo-kur-bit-a'se-en). A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love. This love manifests in many ways, but is always characterised by a pervasive pattern of attachment and an abiding concern for the preservation of the species.

I'd like to coin a new term: Cucurbitacean (kyoo-kur-bit-a'se-en). A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love. This love manifests in many ways, but is always characterised by a pervasive pattern of attachment and an abiding concern for the preservation of the species.

On the bulletin board above my desk, I keep a running tally of squashes: those I "love" and those I "like". I first became enchanted by them when I saw one in a shop in New Zealand on an autumn day 15 years ago. That such art forms exist in nature! I'd never seen a blue squash before, let alone one with three convoluted lobes separated by deep fissures. It looked more like a three-cornered hat or even a punched-down plush pillow. Only after obtaining seeds, and growing triamble in my own garden, did I discover that the flavour of its wall-to-wall orange flesh was outstanding - even when eaten raw. Since then, scores of other squashes have captured my heart. I'm devoted to Marina di Chioggia, winter luxury pie, Seminole, Hubbard, buttercup... The list goes on.

Sometimes, I don't know where pumpkins begin and I end. They consume me and I consume them. I crisscross the globe in search of seeds and am a regular at pumpkin festivals in France and markets from Salta in Argentina, to Venice. My house and barn are filled to the rafters with squashes, glorious squashes. They adorn the mantel, grace every worksurface and line the hallways, windowsills, and shelves. I have a dedicated freezer to store their seeds. By the way I collect these beauties, you'd think they were going out of style and, in a way, they are - of the 150 varieties in my book, The Compleat Squash, only about two dozen are widely grown.

From the time I had my first garden at the age of 18 and realised that I seemed to have a gift for kitchen gardening, I've had my hands in the soil. And a lot of soil is required to produce the hundreds of pumpkins I grow every summer. Unfortunately, my land in the Hudson Valley in New York State is less than ideal for agriculture. The land, with just a scattering of open meadows, is full of rock outcroppings and water. The property has been labelled "bad'' for 250 years. It has taken me a long time to turn bad to good, and I'm still not done.

Whenever I set foot in either of my two vegetable gardens, one an acre in size and the other only 40ft by 60ft, I step softly over the natural springs that well up here and there. I have tried to enrich the soil by adding pond muck and, for the most part, these efforts have been successful. I will never forget, however, the disaster that struck when I added hot phytotoxic compost and my entire crop died overnight. I was totally inconsolable.

Back then, visions of pumpkins and squashes had already begun to dance in my head, but these Cucurbitas were merely a means to an end - winning blue ribbons at the Dutchess County Fair in New York. Learning how to win, and to win big, was for me the equivalent of earning another doctoral degree. It involved producing blameless, blemishless specimens for the third Monday in August every year. And this feat had to be accomplished 70 times over, since there were that many horticultural classes to attend. I grew thousands of varieties of vegetables in the hope of wowing fairgoers and judges alike.

I knew that in order to take home the grand champion rosette, I'd have to master the Cucurbitas. Squashes and pumpkins make up the largest competitive category - larger even than tomatoes or potatoes. Judges grade Cucurbitas for uniformity, table quality and size. Taste tests never enter into the official reckoning; these contests are about form over flavour.

I eventually won the grand championship. Ingenuity and sacrifice were the royal road to the winner's circle. Apparently, no one else was meshuga enough to grow courgettes and straightneck squashes into plastic bags to preserve their pristine complexions. Or spend hours matching up pairs of summer crooknecks with just the right arch of triumph. Acorn squashes had to be heart-shaped and deeply furrowed; Hubbards tapered at each end were preferred. And forget about eating these until after the fair. I sometimes think about all of the delicious meals that I missed, and I will always regret harvesting the biggest pumpkin that I had ever grown (440lb), just to exhibit it in August. Who knows what weight it might have attained if it had been left on the vine until October?

Over time I learnt that squashes, such as triamble, lead a tenuous life, available from only one or two small seed companies that might close down at any time. Thousands of good old- fashioned vegetables are dead and gone, victims of a wave of consolidation in the seed industry, market forces and the advent of first-generation hybrids. Since the early 1990s, by the time I had committed myself to the heirloom seed movement and won three grand championships, my conversion to squash was complete.

The Compleat Squash is where food, art and gardening meet. My aim was to catalogue these marvels before they disappear. You will read stories that I hope will forever change your conception of squashes, and you will learn how to cook, grow and preserve them. They total 150 heirloom varieties - all grown by me in my garden over the course of two summers. Some are less old and rare than others, but all are standard, open-pollinated varieties. I have tried to capture their essence in words, to describe my beloved squashes so that visions of them will dance in your head as they do in mine.

'The Compleat Squash' is published by Workman, priced £30. To order a copy for £27 (including p&p) call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897

Four species in all their glory

'Cucurbita maxima'

If all you've ever known is acorn, or butternut, then you will flip your lid when you taste the likes of buttercup, delicious or sibley. Maximas have a number of virtues that other species lack: mild flavour, high solids, few fibres and brilliant orange flesh, making them a great choice for preserving. The largest pumpkins and squashes and some of the most beautiful - Iran, Galeuse d'Eysines, Queensland blue, strawberry crown and triamble - are members of this species.

'Cucurbita moschata'

Blindingly brilliant orange flesh - high in carotenoids - is one of the most striking features of this species. The best of the lot, Musquée de Provence, St Petersburg and Canada crookneck, are similar to maxima although many are stringy, coarse, or musky in flavour. Fortunately this can be neutralised in the cooking process, especially if they are roasted not steamed. Moschata can be eaten immature (as the Chinese do), but Americans prefer it as a long-lived winter-squash.

'Cucurbita pepo'

Cucurbita pepo is one of the most popular species of all and the most diverse. It includes favourites such as the courgette as well as the familiar Hallowe'en pumpkin. This species is native to Mexico and the US and performs well in temperate areas with cool climates. The Native Americans domesticated the older forms, such as the pumpkin, acorn and scallop, while some of the elongated fruit forms, such as cocozelle and courgette, were developed recently in Europe.

'Cucurbita argyrosperma'

This species is well adapted to hot, dry conditions and was domesticated in Mexico. Its flesh is coarse, thin and pale and its large seeds, which are easy to extract, are an important ingredient in Latin American cuisine. Hard, corky stems are typical of this breed and usually the fruits have thick, elongated necks. Argyrosperma and moschata are regarded as sister species and both are partially infertile. Until the 20th century, the two were lumped together in the same species.

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower