North Georgia Candy Roaster: A Winter Squash to Remember

I enjoy the variety and versatility of winter squashes but don’t consider myself a big enthusiast for these dependable garden staples. However, one cultivar that I’ve come across over the years in seed catalogs and the heirloom gardening world has always intrigued me: ‘North Georgia Candy Roaster.’ I’ll refer to it as Candy Roaster. There was something about the name, look, and description that stayed with me. I decided that 2017 would be the year to give it a try.

candy roaster squash

Candy Roaster squash can cover ground in a hurry. Watch out lawn!

Candy Roaster is a member of Cucurbita maxima, which includes turban, hubbard, banana, and buttercup winter squash plus several pumpkin varieties (including ‘Atlantic Giant’ grown by giant pumpkin growers). Vines are long, leaves are large, and fruit stems are round and get corky at maturity. Candy Roaster fruits are 18–24 inches in length, are shaped like a fat banana, and weigh 10-12 lbs. Fruit start off light yellow and mature to an orangey-beige color with interesting blue-green streaks at the flower end.

This unusual squash is well-known in the mountains of Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and North Georgia and was originally selected, grown, and improved by the Cherokee people. The Cherokee Nation continues to grow it and distribute seed to help preserve their culture and foodways. Slow Food USA includes Candy Roaster in its “Ark of Taste.”

young fruit of candy roaster squash

Young fruit and tendril

Several companies offer seed and judging by the various variety names, descriptions, and days to harvest (95-110) that one finds, it’s likely that there are one or more strains of Candy Roaster out there. I decided to go with seeds from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a Virginia company that specializes in Southern heirlooms. In late June I planted four hills spaced about 4 ½ ft. apart, in a 20 ft. x 7 ft. bed. I thinned the hills to one plant each and watched in awe at the rapid plant growth.

The plants had some squash beetle adults that I picked off, and powdery mildew showed up a few weeks before harvest. Planting late helped me avoid cucumber beetles and squash bugs. I had to work a bit to keep the vines from climbing up the deer fence. I was concerned the vine and fruit weight would damage it.

candy roaster squash harvest

Fruits laid on ground at harvest. Four plants yielded 20 fruits; 16 fruits were full size, >10 lbs.

I harvested all the fruits on Sept. 24th and laid them on my porch floor for two weeks to allow the skin to toughen and wounds to heal. I’ve been giving them away to friends, family, and co-workers to spread the joy. I’ll store the rest in my basement and see how long they keep. I’m also looking forward to roasting the seeds!

The rind is noticeably thinner than the rind of butternut or acorn squash, and easy to peel. The meat is dense but soft and easy to cut through. In addition to making pies I roasted small cubes. The texture is creamy, the flavor very good, and the sugar content relatively high even after just one month in storage.

candy roaster squash pie

Candy Roaster makes for excellent pies, apparently a favorite Thanksgiving dish in the early 1900s in Southern Appalachia. Notice the darker color of these fruits one month after harvest.

I enjoyed growing this squash very much. Yes, it takes up some room, but I think this unique, tasty, and productive squash has earned a place in my garden. Thank you, Cherokee Nation.

By Jon Traunfeld, Director, Home and Garden Information Center 

9 Comments on “North Georgia Candy Roaster: A Winter Squash to Remember

  1. Yes, that does look big. Will it climb a fence if it gets the chance, or does it prefer to stay grounded. Acorn squash climbs wire fences, and can support its own fruit. If this one climbed, I suppose the heavy fruit would need to be suspended. It would be worth it if they would stay on the fence and out of the garden; although that is a lot of fruit to suspend.

    Like

      • I have them climbing 20 ft up a blue spruce tree with huge fruits hanging down yer the tendrils are strong enough to support them

        Like

  2. Awesome! I think I’m going to give this a try next year. I wanted to try pumpkins, but this looks better. Any problems with squash vine borers?

    Like

  3. Pingback: Squash Family Pest Problem Tips | Maryland Grows

  4. My son planted just 2 seeds in the huge root ball hole created by a 100 year old pin oak tree, that slowly died over the previous 10 years in our side yard. We had dug out most of the dead roots and their remained a lot of dead and decayed wood that had turned almost to a mulch! We chopped and raked it as flat as we could, but it was still an eyesore in the middle of our St Augustine grass lawn beside our house.

    My son in law (a pretty good horticulturist in his own rite) said “nothing will ever grow there” (referring to another tree to take its place). Well my son planted the 2 seeds in mid MAY and the both plants exploded and did a great job making a good ground cover. He put nothing in the soil at all! By late July there were many fruits and flowers. Two squashes were over 20 inches and turned pale yellow so he picked them and set them in the our dining room in a some what cool dark corner to age and sweeten up (the house is 130 years old and has A/C only in the bedrooms).

    Now Aug 8th, there are a least a dozen more large fruits present and many more blooms. We plan to harvest a couple or more every week, starting in a few more weeks! I expect we may get 24 to 36 total before first hard freeze. We are located in mid/north Georgia and the seeds were from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This plant “loved” the ground it was planted in and it is beautiful to look at as we hand shaped it perfectly round in the middle of our lush St Augustine yard. We did have an unusual wet summer this year! We can’t wait to use them in many recipes, especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas meal dishes! We hope we can repeat this in the same spot year after year!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: