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