Ark of Taste
chassa howitska (Cucurbita moschata)
The Seminole Pumpkin is an important product for the Miccosukee, or Creek people and the Seminole people. The Miccosukee name for this product is “chassa howitska” meaning “hanging pumpkin”. The reference is to the method by which the pumpkin grows, as the Seminole and the Miccosukee people would plant the pumpkin seeds at the base of girdled trees, so that the pumpkin vines would grow up the trunk, and the pumpkin fruit would grow to be hanging from the bare limbs. It was under cultivation by Seminole people before Spaniards arrived in Florida in the 1500s. Immigrants to Florida also adopted this cultivation method, producing hundreds of pumpkins per acre.
The Seminole Pumpkin is a pear-shaped or spherical pumpkin with an incredibly hard shell or rind. The rind is so hard that it must be broken with an ax. The rind is a deep gold to light salmon and pinkish buff color. Inside, the flesh is thick and beige, with a fine-grained texture that is sometimes described as powdery.
The Seminole Pumpkin has a highly esteemed flavor, not only among the Seminole and Miccosukee people, but also among Caucasian Floridians. Of the many traditional recipes developed for its use, Seminole pumpkin “bread” is so highly regarded that it is still featured during tribal ceremonies and at a tribal-owned restaurant. The Seminole Pumpkin bread is much more like a fritter or empanada than bread, and has been adopted by the wider Florida community, including other tribes of the Southeast. Unfortunately, due to the precipitous decline in cultivation of this heirloom variety, many people now substitute canned pumpkin, meaning they are unable to achieve the same flavor results.
The Seminole pumpkin possess qualities that make it superior to any other squash or pumpkin that gardeners have attempted to cultivate in southern Florida. The ecological adaptations of this variety allow it to tolerate heat, drought, insects, and powdery mildew on its own. For instance, its silver haired leaves, under the intense sun of the tropics, create an almost shiny reflectance that deters the activity of insect pests. Amy Goldman describes the vines as “irrepressible” after witnessing them survive an assault by squash bugs and winds from rainstorms that devastated other squash varieties.