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 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.”
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.
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.
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
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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.
It will leap over a fence! Very strong tendrils. It would be fun to see if the fruits could hang down from a pergola or other type of horizontal trellis.
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
The candy roaster will fall and go “Thunk” from a pergola. My friend grew them, one fell, had a 4 inch crack. The crack did heal itself.
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?
Thanks for the photos , I’m growing this and mixed up my seedlings, it helps to see the leaves !
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!
Hi. I’m looking at some nice ones that I have planted an some are turning that color they should be but I have one squash that looks healthy but it’s the only one that has a light green color an not like all the others it’s about 18 inch long. I’m guessing it got cross pollennated ?
Ken, if you are located in Maryland or DC, you can send a photo of the squash to our horticulturists using this link and we will take a look: https://extension.umd.edu/ask.
We planted ours close to a tree and the vine ended up climbing on the tree.
I have grown the Georgia Candy Roaster now for three years and will always have it as part of my garden. I live in Cherokee County, NC, and the squash grows as if it belongs here. I like to give it a fertile hill and let it run into the tall grass or even into the brush where I will find surprises in the fall. This is the best winter squash I have ever had. It is April 26 and I still have some out in the garage.
Thanks so much for this article! It helped me make the decision to grow some myself. The have done wonderfully and are huge! I’m just not sure how to tell when to harvest them. How do I know? All I can fund is the stem is woody and the skin is firm. How woody? How firm? Lol. Any pointers?