In a recent story, I wrote about my attempt at compost gardening. At the time, my results were good but not quite as good as I wanted. As I mentioned then, I started this garden from seed in May and resolved not to use chemicals (synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, etc.) of any kind. In the five months since then, I’ve faithfully kept that resolution. As a result my garden is entirely organic but a little late to reach maturity.
Fortunately things have changed since then. With temperatures remaining solidly in the 70º-90º F range — despite the fact that it’s supposed to be autumn — my squash plants (Cucurbita mixta) have been positively thriving. They’ve even gone so far as to take over nearly a third of my backyard, where most of the grass has withered due to the drought we’re having in North Carolina.
So, with the additional room to spread out and daily watering from me, the white cushaw plants are now producing copious amounts of flowers. These flowers are two inches across and chalk white, with deeply ridged vasculature, ruffled edges, and tiny hairs covering every petal.
They’re also notable for blooming both at night as well as in the morning. (For the record, it’s downright surreal to go outside at midnight under a full moon and see a backyard full of chalk white blossoms, wide open and basking in the moonlight.) In the afternoon, however, they shut up like a clam.
Then the white cushaws started to produce immature fruits, no more than an inch long to start, which I only saw in passing at first. And because most of them eventually withered, I began to think all of them would.
But there were a few that clung to life.
Finally, around the beginning of September, I went out to water my plants in the evening and happened to notice something large, white, and bulbous sitting near the base of the mound where my compost garden is located. Of course I was cautiously optimistic, but I didn’t want to get excited until I got a closer look.
When I did, I nearly fell over.
From the first little immature fruits — most of which withered and came to nothing — there now emerged a gigantic whale of a squash that easily weighed six pounds. Considering how quickly this cushaw squash matured after so many others had withered and died, it was easy to be awestruck.
Now I have three of these white cushaw whales at roughly the same stage of growth, fully mature and awaiting my dinner table. I haven’t removed any of them from the vine yet, because I’m giving them the chance to develop as much flavor and character as possible.
Culinary & Medicinal Uses
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that white cushaws are in fact exceedingly edible. Their flavor is mild but sweet, with yellow-orange flesh that allows them to easily replace pumpkin in any recipe calling for it. (Pumpkins and squashes are from the same genus, Cucurbita, so this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.)
Beyond that, the seeds of the white cushaw squash are large and tasty and can be eaten either raw or cooked. Once again, the taste is very similar to that of pumpkin. Also similar to pumpkin is the fact that white cushaw seeds can be pulverized into a powder, mixed in water, and used as a vermifuge (an herb that gets rid of worms).
On that tasty note, I should add that I may try to make a pumpkin pudding using white cushaws (no pumpkin pie for me due to paleo dietary restrictions) around Thanksgiving. This should be entirely feasible since white cushaws will usually last for two or three months as long as they’re stored in a cool, dark place. And if there’s sufficient interest, I may write another story about that culinary experiment.