Indigenous Crop: The Boston Marrow Squash famed for its custard-like, buttery flavor

Boston Marrow Squash is famous for its custard-like, buttery flavor. (Flickr/David Blaine)

The Boston Marrow Squash is an old heirloom winter squash that is well known in and around Boston, as well as elsewhere in the Northeast America. This open pollinated squash takes approximately one hundred to one hundred and ten days to mature and produces squash that are orange or reddish orange in color. Sometimes, the Boston Marrow has pale orange stripes that extend from its stem to the blossom end or tip of the pumpkin.

According to Victory seeds, an online seed company that sells heirloom seeds, the Boston Marrow was originally a small squash weighing five or six pounds. However, the Boston Marrow grown today can weigh anything from ten to over fifty-two pounds each, with an average or about twenty-five pounds. It was primarily used in New England as pie squash as it was favored for its high water content, perfect for cooking into pies.

Precisely when and how the Boston Marrow became domesticated in America is unclear. However, Fearing Burr, the author of Field & Garden Vegetables of America, was the first person to document the Boston Marrow squash in 1831. In his book, Burr mentions that Mr. J.M Ives of North Salem, Massachusetts, received the seeds of the Boston Marrow from a friend who lived in Northampton, Massachusetts. As the story goes, Mr. Ives then distributed the seeds to members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society who, he claims, had never seen the specimen previously. Mr. Ives also mentions that his friend whom he received the seeds from, had in fact, been given the seeds from Buffalo gardeners who got them from a tribe of Native Americans that visited the area; and this is apparently how it all begun.

The Boston Marrow is part of the Cucurbita maxima family and since this species originated in South America, it is speculated that the Boston Marrow could be of Chilean origin (linked to the Valparaiso squash or C. mammeata). Over the years, due to its adaptability to cool and short-season growing regions, the production of the Boston Marrow has spread all the way to the west coast of the United States.

The Boston Marrow is currently being featured in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste and there have been greater efforts to conserve important varieties such as the Boston Marrow. With its newfound fame, perhaps more research may be done into the history of the Boston Marrow’s domestication. 

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