- Gete Okosomin Squash
- CMU squashes false tale with story of growing relations
- Heirloom Squash Plants – History Of Gete Okosomin Squash
- Gete Okosomin Heirloom Squash Origins – The Wrong Story
- Real History of Gete Okosomin Squash
- How a silly old man’s squash can reawaken taste for traditional Indigenous foods
- How to prepare silly old man’s squash
Gete Okosomin Squash
(C. maxima) This is the squash that gained fame online and became known as the “800 year old squash” which, according to legend, seed was found in a “clay ball” at an historic site in Wisconsin. But other stories state that this squash was found in a cave by the Miami Nation. Whatever the story is, we know that squashes of this type have been grown by Native people in North America for hundreds of years and likely came from the Guatemala area, possibly over 1000 years ago. This fabulous Native American squash first came to our attention in 2015, at the 5th annual Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. The magnificent fruit runs about 2-3 feet long and weighs up to 18 pounds. The color is a rich, bright orange, with lighter orange striping running the length of the banana-shaped fruit. The surface is mildly bumpy; the overall appearance is amazingly beautiful. Gete-Okosimin also proves to be delicious–sweet, with hints of melon, and possessing a wonderful smooth texture. We thank Roger Smith for bringing this squash to our attention.
Last year, Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Michigan, planted some squash seeds they were given, not knowing what they would produce. When the plants eventually grew in as bright orange, two-foot-long squashes, farmer Sarah Hofman-Graham invited Michigan Radio reporter Rebecca Williams over for some soup. The squash “tasted sweet and mild,” Williams reports for Michigan Radio.
This isn’t the story of a mystery seed producing something tasty— rather the plants tell a story of Native Americans who have recovered an almost-forgotten variety of squash.
The seeds Eight Day Farm planted came from Paul DeMain, the editor of News from Indian Country and a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. He tells Williams that he got the seeds from the Miami Nation in Indiana. The seeds have traveled from hand to hand, in part thanks to seed keepers at White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota.
The Gete-Okosomin squash (which roughly translates to “big old squash”) can yield fruit that weigh more than 30 pounds. The seeds come from a lineage of plants carefully tended for millennia by Native Americans, writes Alysa Landry for Indian Country Today. The Miami Nation has grown Gete-Okosomin squash for 5,000 years, Landry reports. They were “careful stewards of the seed, taking care to hand-pollinate them and maintain their purity.” In 1995, gardeners from the Miami Nation gave seeds to David Wrone, who is now an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s a delicious variety,” Wrone says. “And it doesn’t have the rind on it that many modern squash have. I would imagine the Miami people sliced it, dried it out and put it in the rafters of their homes. Then they could pull it down and use it in their cooking, throw it in with rabbit, corn or wild rice.”
Kenton Lobe, an environmental studies professor at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tells Landry that his students have cultivated the squash at the university farm for several years. “It’s a way to connect back to the first people and acknowledge their agricultural heritage,” Lobe tells Landry. “There’s something that resonates culturally when we share a heritage seed that has been reclaimed.”
CMU squashes false tale with story of growing relations
WINNIPEG, Man. — Canadian Mennonite University made headlines this fall when it was revealed that workers at the CMU Farm, in collaboration with members of the Métis community, had successfully grown an ancient variety of squash from seeds shared with them by the White Earth Seed Library in Minnesota.
CMU international development studies instructor Kenton Lobe and Métis seed saver Caroline Chartrand hold Gete-Okosomin squash at the CMU Farm. — Canadian Mennonite University
The story that accompanied the “Gete-Okosomin” squash seeds was that they were found in a clay ball at an archaeological excavation near the Wisconsin-Illinois border. It went on to suggest that the dating of the clay ball indicated that the seeds were more than 800 years old.
The story captured the imagination of seed savers and gardeners across the continent. It is a good story, but is it true?
When asked, Kenton Lobe, instructor in international development studies and one of the CMU Farm’s founders, smiles.
“The truth of the story of these squash seeds is still emerging,” he said.
Further digging into the history reveals that they were originally gifted to David Wrone, a University of Wisconsin emeritus historian, by some elder women gardeners from the Miami Nation in Indiana in 1995.
One of these squash had been grown and saved by the Miami people for many generations, perhaps even thousands of years.
In a note to the White Earth Seed Library, Wrone related that he had earlier received squash seeds that had been found deep underground in a Kentucky cave.
They were well preserved and estimated to be several thousand years old. Wrone grew them, but they were “smallish and not as tasty.”
The seeds from the Miami women were shared with Wrone and eventually with White Earth Seed Library.
Over time and through many tellings, these two squash seed stories crossed and turned into one.
The seeds shared with the CMU Farm were, in fact, those grown by the Miami women.
During the last three growing seasons, members of the Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative, who work the CMU Farm, collaborated with Caroline Chartrand, who describes herself as “the landless Métis seed saver,” to grow the seeds and maintain the varietal purity.
Their pioneering hand-pollinating method involves community members in planting and caring for the plants and in harvesting the seed to share with others.
Megan Klassen-Wiebe, one of the farmers, presented this methodology at the Indigenous Farming Conference at White Earth Indian Reservation in 2013.
“When we started the CMU Farm, we talked a lot about seeds — the politics of seeds and the role they play in our global agriculture system,” she said. “To have connected with Caroline and be doing seed-saving work is exciting.”
Lobe said that whether or not the original story is true, growing the squash has helped forge relationships between Métis and Mennonites, with Anishinaabe people in Minnesota and, ultimately, with Miami gardeners.
“The truth is, the work of seed- saving has opened up space for indigenous-settler dialogue and has been both hopeful and helpful,” he said, noting that the CMU Farm lies on what in the 1870s was a Métis river lot that is still part of Treaty 1 territory.
Chartrand said seed-saving is important in Métis culture because, in one sense, every time a variety of vegetables goes extinct, part of Métis history is sacrificed.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this partnership I have with Kenton and the farmers at CMU,” she said. “As a re-sult of our work, we have varieties of seeds that were once rare that are now in seed libraries across Canada and the United States.”
The squash seeds will eventually be available for sharing through the fledgling Red River Regional Seed Library at CMU.
Heirloom Squash Plants – History Of Gete Okosomin Squash
The Gete Okosomin squash has two very interesting stories. One of them is true. The other isn’t, and that’s the one that’s made it famous. But even the true story, while a little less click-baity, is fascinating, and a testament to the long relationship between people and gardening. So let’s look at the real history of Gete Okosomin squash… and we’ll look a little bit at the fake history, too.
Gete Okosomin Heirloom Squash Origins – The Wrong Story
The name Gete Okosomin literally means “big old squash.” It’s a fitting title because the long orange fruits frequently tip the scales at 30 pounds (13.6 kg.). The plants became very well known a few years ago when a tale about their “discovery” started making the rounds on the internet.
According to this story, a 2008 archeological dig in Wisconsin unearthed a small clay vessel containing seeds that were carbon dated to 850 years ago. The dormant seeds were planted and they grew into this “lost” squash. It’s a fun idea, and one that sparks the imaginations of seed savers and gardeners. Just imagine… a Jurassic Park of long extinct squashes! But, alas, it isn’t true.
Real History of Gete Okosomin Squash
The Gete Okosomin squash isn’t long extinct. Quite the opposite, in fact. Through careful cultivation and hand pollination, the Miami people of Indiana have been growing it and refining it for thousands of years. That means the variety is actually much older than the sensational headlines suggest!
It’s unclear exactly where the clay vessel story comes from, but the squash’s wider popularity can seem to be traced to David Wrone, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, who was gifted the seeds by Miami Nation gardeners. Wrone began growing the squash and spreading the seeds around, giving some to the White Earth Seed Library.
Today, the seeds are available to the public. The fruits are massive with tasty, nutty flesh and nutritious seeds, and well worth a try for the adventurous gardener.
How a silly old man’s squash can reawaken taste for traditional Indigenous foods
It’s called silly old man’s squash.
When the CBC was given a large Gete-Okosomin squash as a gift from a community gardener, we asked Indigenous elder Audrey Logan to share her knowledge and help prepare it for a community feast.
Logan said the story she’s heard is archaeologists discovered the squash seeds stored in a clay ball.
“They asked an elder if they could open the ball and use the seeds, and after he gave them permission, it got the name silly old man’s squash,” Logan said.
Seeds for Gete-Okosomin have been found as far north as Thompson in the scrapings of pots from as far back as “the time of the mammoth,” Logan said.
Logan says the squash is sweet and tastes like a combination of cantaloupe melon and butternut squash.
“Traditionally, Indigenous people didn’t use squash the way it’s used now by Western cultures. It would be dried and used as flour or broken off into pieces and eaten.”
‘The seeds of the squash are very sacred because the squash is female,’ Logan says. (Wendy Parker/CBC)
It didn’t spoil easily and would last throughout the winter season. Whole communities relied on strings of dried squash.
Logan says the squash flour was so versatile, a Mennonite cookbook credits the women of Peguis First Nation with teaching them how to make the staple.
But squash is no longer integral to the Indigenous diet. Logan blames laws, including the Indian Act, that she says made sure Indigenous people were unable to feed themselves.
“The one who feeds is the one who leads. What better way to stop (Indigenous Peoples) from feeding themselves than to stop them from growing and accessing their own food.”
Logan says the squash can get very large, growing to anywhere from 10 to 33 pounds.
How to prepare silly old man’s squash
Here’s her step-by-step process for preparing and cooking the squash in a traditional way>
Step 1: Wash the squash, keeping the skin on it, and hollow out a trough. (Wendy Parker/CBC)
First wash the squash, keeping the skin on it because the shell will be used as the cooking vessel.
Cut it open and cut out a trough. Logan uses her grandmother’s cutting tool, called an ulu, traditionally used by the Inuit.
“The seeds of the squash are very sacred because the squash is female. It has seeds just like ovaries and that’s why it’s known as the mother — it holds the eggs of the next generation.”
Logan says she’s kept squash over the winter, adding that because they keep so well, they have “given birth” to squash inside, what she calls “little babies.”
Logan harvests the seeds, then dries and saves them. Seed saving and sharing is part of Indigenous culture, she says.
Stuff the squash full of pre-cooked wild rice and bison sausage. Other ingredients, including dried mushrooms and dried tomatoes, can also be added to absorb the moisture from the squash. Put the top of the trough back on the squash.
Fill the squash with cooked wild rice and bison sausage. (Wendy Parker/CBC)
“Traditionally the squash would be cooked on a bed of coals and it would be wrapped with wetted corn leaves.”
Bake at 400 F for 45 minutes. The skin should blister. That indicates that it’s cooked.
Scoop out the wild rice and sausage mixture, cut up the squash and serve.
Logan says it is imperative to reintroduce Indigenous foods like silly old man’s squash to Indigenous children, because it helps them reclaim her own culture and heritage.
“The children need to know that this is their food so they can enjoy it and they can reclaim it,” she said.
“This is your heritage. Your ancestors grew this food for thousands of years. By tasting it you will reawaken that heritage within you.”
Kiara Beaulieu, 13, tried silly old man’s squash — and liked it. (Wendy Parker/CBC)
Kiara Beaulieu, 13, tried it — and liked it.
“It’s nice because it’s part of my heritage, so it’s nice getting to eat something that’s not grown now. It was grown way back.”
‘The children need to know that this is their food so they can enjoy it and they can reclaim it,” Logan says. (Wendy Parker/CBC)