Monday, October 29, 2012

North Georgia Candy Roaster: "What is that?"

First off, it's been a while since my last post, and for that, I apologize. After publishing the Urban Farm Manifesto, I was burnt out from writing. Then after the burnout faded away, I had an unheard of new level of extremely high cynicism (mostly bureaucratic in its nature) that would have embittered my prose.  So after a much needed lapse, I'm back.

Over the last three years, much of my farming career has been based on heirloom vegetable production, focusing on what I call wild-style vegetables.  Wild-style generally means veggies that look really cool in addition to tasting amazing.  Initially, this manifested itself with heirloom maters, and then was followed by quirky vegetables like Mexican Sour Gherkins and Chioggia beets.  But alas, this year I ventured into new territory:  winter squash.

With their almost endless variation of form, their mega-sprawling vines, and their hard shells that remind me of my own hard head, I fell in love this year with growing winter squash.  That being said, selling the winter weirdos is a whole 'nother beast in its entirety; which as a farmer, the sale is the bottom line just as it is in any business.  If I thought Green Zebras and Costoluto Genoveses inspired questions, then that thing pictured in the above photos was like a military interrogation complete with a single light bulb swaying from the ceiling and me strapped to a wooden chair, being beat with the words, "what is that?"

The conversation normally went something like this.

Customer:  "What is that?"
Me:  "A winter squash."
Blank stare.
Me:  "You know, like a cooking pumpkin with awesome flesh."
Blank stare.
Customer:  "What do I do with it?"
Me:  "Anything that you would do normally with a cooking pumpkin:  pie, creme brulee, pancakes, stew, soup, curry."
Customer while blank staring and nodding:  "Ooooh," typically followed by no sale.

Letting folks know that it's called a North Georgia Candy Roaster didn't help the situation and actually often seemed to make it worse. Sometimes, I would get the retort, "I'm from North Georgia, and I've never seen anything like that."  To which, I would have no verbal response, but would think to myself, "maybe, you need to get out more often."

The rest of this blog will be a more formal attempt to answer the question, "what is that?"  It will be very plant-nerd at times, but hopefully readable to the general public.

At this point, I hope we all understand that it's called a North Georgia Candy Roaster.  Around the house, we were calling them, Mastodon Tusks.  One of my more colorful customers gave them a flattering name, likening it to the world's largest male mammal's sex organ, which alliteration-ly, then consonance-ly, and lastly perfectly rhymes with wall clock.

The North Georgia Candy Roaster belongs to the giant plant family called the Cucurbitaceae.  The Cucurbitaceae is an economic powerhouse of warm weather lovers that includes melons, cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, and gourds.

The North Georgia Candy Roaster is further classified as a Cucurbita maxima, along with other freaks like the Blue Hubbard, Turk's Cap, and the Sea Squash of Italy.  This entire group originated in South America.  From there, the Maximas get sub-grouped into one of eight horticultural groups.  Of which, the North Georgia Candy Roaster belongs to the Banana group.  Like a banana, the Banana group is known for their elongated body types with tapered ends, awesome edibility, and light seed production.  The Bananas are typically colored light blue and/or a fleshy, salmony pink.

My cultivar of North Georgia Candy Roaster came from Baker Creek Seeds and is apparently a smaller type.  That being said, most of my crop still weighed in at a hardy 8-11 pounds.  I was able to make eight separate meals from just one of my Candy Roasters.  In my next blog, I will highlight those eight separate meals in order to answer the question,"what do I do with it?"

Major kudos goes out to the encyclopedic and gorgeous book, The Compleat Squash, A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds by Amy Goldman for helping to fill my personal informational knowledge voids, and to John McGovern for helping with the heavy harvest.