Farm to School Episode 2: Squash
Acorn squash is one of many varieties of winter squash that we grow in the Northeast. The original Vermont inhabitants, the Abenaki (among many other tribes) have been growing varieties of summer and winter squashes for thousands of years. In this lesson, which falls around the Thanksgiving season, we present squash and Thanksgiving as a celebration of the contributions, values, and lifeways of Native communities.
Acorn squash is not only delicious, it’s also packed with fiber and nutrients for our skin and eyes! It’s a popular choice of carbohydrates for many people. Do you remember we learned about another popular carbohydrate, potatoes? This lesson will delve into acorn squash—its flavor, its nutritional content, the benefits of eating this delicious veggie, and some different culinary uses!
What is Acorn Squash?
Acorn squash is one type of winter squash. It belongs to the gourd family. It is believed that the gourd, commonly used as a container upon first being discovered by indigenous people, might have been the ancestral fruit from which many North American tribes grew out the original squashes of the Three Sisters. The squash family also includes pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, and sweet dumpling squash (to name a few). Acorn squash gets its name from its shape—it sort of looks like an acorn, don’t you think?
Acorn squash has green and orange skin on the outside, and on the inside it has a yellow-orange color. That tells us that, like carrots, it is helpful for reducing our cold symptoms and keeping our skin glowing. Its flesh is sweet, and some people say it tastes nutty.
Lots of people like acorn squash because it is easy to grow and will stay firm and tasty until April if stored properly. It’s a great nutrient source that can fill our bellies when other veggies are out of season.
Is Squash a Fruit or Vegetable?
Always a favorite question…what’s a fruit, and what’s a vegetable? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always clear. Squash is bright and colorful, like a fruit, but tastes mild and savory, like a vegetable. So which is it?
Well, botanically, squash is a fruit. That means that it fits the plant requirements for being a fruit better than it fits the plant requirements for being a vegetable. Fruits contain seeds and develop from a flower. Since all types of squash have seeds and come from the flowering part of the squash plant, this makes it technically fit into the fruit category.
On the other hand, most people still refer to squash as a vegetable. Why is that? Well, because of its flavor and culinary uses, of course! When we’re cooking, we usually prepare squash like other starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots. Squash has a predominantly earthy flavor and isn’t usually eaten raw. Lots of people like to roast or steam squash—you can even put it in salads, stew, and soup!
To sum it all up…a squash can be considered both a fruit and a vegetable, depending on who you ask. What do you want to call it?
Recipe: Oven-Roasted Squash Smiles
Serves 12-15 students
Knife Skill and Safety Suggestion:
Younger culinary students can benefit from observing an adult modeling how to cut through thick-skinned squash. Demonstrate using a firm grasp on the handle of a broad, sharp chef knife. Apply pressure using your open palm across the upper edge of the knife blade. Show where to place fingers when it becomes necessary to stabilize the squash.
- 2 acorn squashes
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Baking sheet
- Cutting board
- Sharp knives
- Parchment paper OR aluminum foil
- Slow cooker
- Wash hands and glove up.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.
- Place the acorn squash on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, slice the acorn squash in half. Then remove the seeds using a spoon.
- Lay the half acorn squash cut-side down and slice into ¼-inch slices parallel to the stem.
- Measure and mix together the remaining ingredients.
- Now it’s time to bake it by arranging the slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
- Pour olive oil and spice mixture over the top of the acorn squash. Roast for 40–50 minutes, until the squash slices are fork-tender.
- Enjoy the aroma and smile as the squash roasts. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Roast squash ahead of time at home adding only olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Give students a knife skill lesson as described in the safety recommendations. Measure and mix cinnamon into maple syrup. Separate seeds from the stringy, gooey flesh. Reheat in a slow cooker until warmed through (about 20 minutes). Drizzle with cinnamon syrup, serve, and enjoy!
Today we have squash seeds thanks to the Native tribal seed carriers who passed down saved seeds to future generations. We too can respect the value of seeds by either saving them for the next garden season or roasting them up. If you’re nervous about saving seeds that have been handled by others, remember! Roasting seeds is a way to rid them of germs.
To roast seeds:
- Remove seeds from the stringy, gooey hammock inside the squash.
- Rinse flesh from seeds in a colander, then drain. (Soaking seeds overnight can make them more easily digested.)
- Drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon and/or salt.
- Roast in the oven at 250 degrees for about 10–15 minutes until slightly browned.
To save seeds:
- Remove seeds from the stringy, gooey hammock inside the squash. A large spoon or ice cream scoop works best. Gloved hands work too!
- Remove flesh from seeds.
- Rinse free the last bits of fleshy residue from seeds.
- Drain well in a colander.
- Lay seeds out one layer deep on paper towels.
- Check that seeds are moisture-free in a day or two. Turn seeds over if seeds are moist.
- When fully dry, package seeds in envelopes or fold an origami cup to store seeds inside.
- Label seed packets with name and date and illustrate the beauty of squash!
Recipe: Three Sisters Soup
(all age groups)
Prepares 12 servings
Here lies an opportunity to appreciate the long-standing, thousands of years tradition of squash, corn, and beans grown by Native communities. Over time, squash and other seeds adapted to numerous climates and soils and grew resilient to climatic disturbances. These seeds still nourish us today thanks to the Native people’s deep level of understanding and connection to the natural environment.
Preparation: Squash needs 40 minutes roasting time in an oven or can be made in advance.
- 1 large acorn squash (or any winter squash of your choosing)
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 bag of frozen corn
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup of dried kidney beans, soaked overnight (or 2 15-oz. cans kidney beans)
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp sumac
* 2 cloves garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Induction burner or stovetop
- Sauté pan
- Baking sheet
- Sharp knives
- Immersion blender, blender, or food processor
- Cutting boards
- 2 slow cookers or i1 slow cooker and 1 microwave
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Slice your squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then roast flesh-side down in an inch of water for about 40 minutes. (While squash cooks, clean seeds and soak in warm water.) Allow squash to cool.
- Once soft, scrape out the flesh and save the liquid for later. Blend until totally smooth (you can use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender).
- Reduce oven to 325. Roast seeds in the oven with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil and maple syrup—about 15–20 minutes, until seeds are golden brown.
- Sauté onions in a large pot over medium heat until soft and translucent, then add garlic, thyme, rosemary, sumac, salt, and black pepper, stirring until the garlic turns soft as well.
- Pour in the stock and follow with the bay leaf and squash. Allow it to simmer for a few minutes before adding the rest of your ingredients. Simmer for about 20 minutes total.
- Serve warm, with seeds as garnish.
Making the Recipe in a Classroom (in a COVID-Wise fashion)
Depending on classroom space and resources, this recipe can be made in three groups.
First have students thoroughly wash their hands with warm soapy water for at least 30 seconds. Remind them that they must rewash their hands if they touch their face or hair. If possible, have students wear gloves.
Divide students into 3 groups. One will be scooping out seeds and saving them, another will be chopping vegetables, and another will be measuring spices and opening and draining packages of beans, stock, and corn.
Group 1 will cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. After seeds are removed, they will clean off the seeds and set them aside to dry. This may seem like a quick set of tasks, but the squashes can be hard to cut and the seed garbling takes longer than expected. If they finish early, they can start cleanup.
Group 2 will chop the carrot, celery, and onion.
Group 3 will measure the spices, open and drain the can of beans, and open stock and corn containers.
- If using an induction burner:
- Roast squash and seeds at home as instructed above.
- In classroom, sauté vegetables with herbs, add in broth and other ingredients, and continue to make as instructed above.
- While soup cooks, each group can report about its tasks, their sensory experiences, texture changes, and culinary processes and tool use.
- Share the history of the Three Sisters and discuss Native ingredients—corn, beans, sumac, and salt were traded with tribes that lived by the sea. You can also touch on the importance of seed saving and all the wonderful treasures that seeds have inside them.
- Observe the color and aroma and take in a few deep breaths together. Serve soup warm and garnish with seeds.
- If using a slow cooker:
- Roast squash and seeds at home as instructed above.
- Groups 2 and 3 prepare other vegetables and spices as suggested above.
- Heat in slow cooker until warmed through and fragrant, about 20–30 minutes.
- While soup cooks, talk to students about the history of the Three Sisters and other Native ingredients—sumac, corn, beans, and salt that were traded with oceanside tribes, etc. You can also touch on the importance of seed saving and all the wonderful treasures that seeds have inside them.
- Observe the color and aroma and take in a few deep breaths of gratitude together. Serve soup warm, garnish with seeds.
Connect to the Land
Before or after preparing this recipe as a group, take students out in nature to discuss the connections between this recipe and the gifts of the landscape. Can you find a Staghorn Sumac? The bark is soft and somewhat velvety, like the horns of a stag. To determine its condition for culinary use, you should observe the flower cluster. Is it red? Browning? If it remains red, you might harvest some and explore using it as flavoring for sumac lemonade in the manner that some Native people do. The fruit clusters are stored in kosher salt for up to a week if using in a savory dish. The outer fuzzy part of the berry is what is used. The hard inner seeds are not for culinary use.
Sumac Lemonade Recipe
You might have heard the term “Indian Lemonade” used for this drink. It is best called Sumac Lemonade as Native people respectfully refer to it.
- Pack sumac berries into a glass jar, cover with water.
- Add a bit of maple syrup and put on the lid.
- Place the jar in the sun for a day or two.
- Strain out the sumac.
- Add some freshly sliced lemons, and enjoy the tasty dose of Nature’s vitamin C.
Restore the Earth Gratitude Practice
In the Cultural and Historical Background section, you will learn more about how Native communities’ relationship with the Earth was expressed in ways that supported interdependence and resilience. This grew out of a culture of “Caretaker’s Mind” toward the Earth and the community. What can you do to caretake the land where squash grew? If the first frost has not yet arrived, plant some pea or winter rye seeds to replenish the garden with nutrients. There are endless ways to give thanks to the Earth and to acknowledge and appreciate indigenous wisdom and generosity.
Recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adults & Elders
Makes 6 stuffed acorn squash halves
- 3 acorn squash
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 medium white/yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups spinach, firmly packed and coarsely chopped
- 3 tsp parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 16 oz. can chickpeas
- 1 can diced tomatoes or 4 fresh diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp ground pepper
Instructions (original recipe):
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Prep squash:
- Cut ends of squash off (as little as possible) so that it will sit up on its own.
- Cut in half (sometimes this is really hard; try tracing a line around the squash before cutting all the way through).
- Remove seeds and set aside for roasting.
- Place squash open-side up on a large baking sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30–40 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.
- While squash cooks, prepare stuffing by first prepping all of your veggies and setting each aside in separate piles: finely chopped onion, minced garlic, coarsely chopped spinach, finely chopped parsley, chopped tomatoes (if using fresh).
- Place the large skillet on a low-medium heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and tilt the skillet to coat.
- Add onion, cook until translucent/clear, stirring occasionally. Add garlic during the last minute of onion sautéeing.
- Add chickpeas and cook for about another 5–6 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste, rosemary, salt, pepper, and parsley.
- Stir in spinach and cook for about a minute until spinach just starts to wilt.
- Remove from heat, taste, make adjustments if needed.
- Stuff the opening of each squash, serve hot. If serving quarters instead of halves, cut squashes in half again once cooked and serve stuffing on the side.
Health and Wellness
Acorn squash is an orange food full of healing gifts called vitamins A and C. Remember when we talked about go foods and glow foods? Acorn squash is similar to a glow food because it helps our eyes see in the dark. Can anyone name another glow food? Think orange! (Carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato.) It also helps us stay healthy when we start to feel run down, which is important as winter approaches us and we are more prone to colds and illnesses. Remember the immunity party that happens inside of your body? All the healthy foods you eat are welcomed to the immunity party to keep you healthy! Along with this, your body has an entire wellness team! Immunity and healthy eating are key players, but also sleep, drinking enough water, and making sure you get outside to play everyday will keep your body feeling its best all year.
Acorn squash contains vitamins A and C, which help our bodies in many ways. First of all, these vitamins are extremely important for our eye health and our immunity. Vitamins A and C help our eyes see in the dark and can protect us from becoming sick. Has anyone ever taken vitamin C when they start to get a cold? Acorn squash is a natural way to increase our vitamin C and help us fight off colds. This will be especially helpful this winter while we are combating our regular colds and thinking about being COVID Wise. Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption, which means you should try pairing them together when you eat. If you’re going out for a sports game, a hike, or a day on the slopes, bring along a trail mix with foods such as raisins, oats, or nuts. Don’t want to bring some squash? Of course! Then bring a snack like carrot sticks to get your vitamins as well! The orange color in acorn squash comes from what we call beta-carotene. This is an organic compound that helps to create the vitamin A in the squash. Other foods
that carry similar benefits to acorn squash are carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potato. Carrots were once so valuable they were traded as medicine around present-day Pakistan and Egypt. This shows just how important these vegetables are for our health!
The most abundant nutrients in acorn squash are vitamins A and C and beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an organic compound that aids in creating vitamin A in the squash. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it mixes and absorbs well with fats in our bodies. Something to pay attention to is the DRI (daily recommended intake) of vitamin A, since it is a fat-soluble vitamin. In a single day, the DRI of vitamin A is 700 μg for women and 900 μg for men. It can be tricky to understand how much this means. Eating about 2 carrots a day will be sufficient for vitamin A. Our bodies can store vitamin A in our fat well, so we do not need to overdo it, and it isn’t unhealthy if we miss a day of vitamin A consumption. On the other hand, vitamin C is water soluble, which means it doesn’t store as well in our bodies and is more important to consume regularly and not all at once. Vitamin C helps block disease and illnesses and promotes body healing. It also helps the absorption of iron. So when you are eating dark, leafy iron-rich greens or raisins, try pairing it with a high vitamin C food like an orange.
During pregnancy, a common issue can be mild anemia, since the body needs to care for two beings. Acorn squash’s high vitamin C content can be very helpful for absorbing iron. Pair your acorn squash with a high-iron food such as meat or lots of dark, leafy greens to ensure iron intake and absorption. Similar to when we studied potatoes, acorn squash also contains folic acid and folate, which are extremely important for baby’s development.
As we age, our eyesight can begin to deteriorate, so acorn squash can be a great source of vitamin A and beta-carotene to keep our eyes sharp. Acorn squash also contains some B vitamins, which are commonly consumed less than vitamins A or C. B vitamins have been linked to long-term brain health, and deficiencies have been connected to dementia in older populations. Consuming enough B vitamins your entire life and also focusing on getting enough as you age can help your brain stay sharp and keep your eeys sharp with Vitamin A!
Cultural and Historical Background
The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash
According to Abenaki and Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three sisters who grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting in the same mounds, widespread among different Native American tribes, is a sophisticated and sustainable agricultural system that provides long-term soil fertility and deep nutrition to indigenous people
When Sister Corn sprouts, she grows a high, tall stalk and provides a natural pole for Sister Bean’s vines to climb. Sister Bean is nitrogen-fixing; it feeds Corn and improves the overall fertility of the plot by providing a special plant nutrient called nitrogen. Finally, shallow-rooted Sister Squash’s vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and holding in soil moisture, thereby improving the chances of crop survival in dry years. Sister Squash also bears leaves that are spiny and help discourage critters from approaching Sister Corn and Sister Bean. Best of all, at the end of the season, the sisters leave a large amount of crop residue. This leftover plant matter can be laid down on the surface to keep the soil covered through the winter months until incorporated into the compost pile next spring. By protecting bare soil in this way, all the sisters help build up the organic matter to improve soil structure.
Not to mention that corn, beans, and squash supplement and complement each other when eaten together! They make a healthy, balanced meal.
We have learned about the interdependence of the Three Sisters, meaning that they work in a symbiotic, helpful relationship as they grow. The proteins that corn has, beans lack, and vice versa—they complement each other and make a complete protein when eaten at the same meal. Squash, especially winter squash, has lots of yumminess that satiates us. Vitamins such as A support our vision when it is dark. The same vitamin supports a healthy glow to our skin. Fiber is important for helping our bodies move waste out while absorbing the other nutrients that Sister Corn and Sister Bean offer.
Squash offers a feeling of being full of goodness. Thank you, Sister! Can you name and celebrate some other ways we are interdependent with each other and nature?
Here in Vermont, most of us were not the first people to live here. Long before Europeans came to the Americas, many indigenous people lived here. Let’s practice saying indigenous together. Did you know there are Native American squash and pumpkins currently growing in pumpkin patches and farms across Vermont? The Abenaki word that means squash or pumpkin is “wassawa.” This term describes all squashes or pumpkins. The Abenaki, a Vermont tribe, grew many varieties of squash. The most popular you might recognize are the big Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins and sweet pie pumpkins. One sugar pumpkin variety has skin that looks slightly different—a bit like a cantaloupe. Another variety called the Algonquin Winter Squash has a long vase shape. It is a very adaptable food. It can be eaten green like a summer squash if picked in July or left to fully ripen to orange in September and enjoyed like winter squash.
Can you imagine all the generations of farmers and gardeners who have been saving and passing down these seeds to their children and grandchildren? You too can keep seeds from your favorite Jack-O-Lantern. You can plant them next year in keeping with Vermont’s First Nation Abenaki who have been passing on seeds of squashes that are so popular during Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Here’s how to save seeds. Scoop out of the fleshy fruits (yes, squash and pumpkins are actually fruits). Separate then rinse away the gooey, stringy hammock that cradles the seeds. Once rinsed free of flesh, you can lay the seeds out on a paper towel or screen to dry. This might take a couple of days. Check to see that both sides of the seeds are moisture-free. Store in a plain or decorated envelope labeled with date and squash name. Store in a cool, dry location in a seed box or even a drawer. Check your seeds new moon to new moon to be sure they are protected from temperature extremes, moisture buildup, and little critters who love to nibble seeds. When it is time to plant in Spring, be sure to share some seeds in the spirit of the Abenaki tradition of caring for the community.
Map of where tribes in Vermont lived prior to colonizers: http://www.native-languages.org/vermont.htm
Long before most of us inhabited Vermont, the Abenaki people lived in this area we call home. The Abenaki grew many different varieties of squash and pumpkins. Some of their most recognizable squashes and pumpkins are the large orange Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins and sweet pie pumpkins, including one that looks like it has a cantaloupe skin. Rarer is the Algonquin squash. It is a heritage food for the Abenaki. The seeds for this rare variety are being recovered and grown out by the Abenaki Lank Link Project to increase seed stock for the Abenaki. The Abenaki word that means squash or pumpkin is “wassawa.” This term describes all squashes and pumpkins.
Two meaningful buzzwords when thinking about seed saving are “resilience” and “biodiversity.” Has anyone heard these terms before or have a guess for what they could mean? Earth’s biodiversity is important to our food supply and ecosystems. When seeds are saved, they have already endured a particular growing season or seasons or soil types. Some seeds may have cross pollinated and thus offer an entirely new variety of food. Saved seeds have adapted to that prior season or multiple, even hundreds or, in the case of the Abenki, thousands of seasons. Every season brings a different growing environment of drought, lack of sun, shorter growing season, and pestilence that the plants have survived. Seed saving builds “resilience” and adaptability in any particular crop. As these crops continue to thrive and feed a society, the society becomes resilient too!
Thankfully the first seed savers were amazing plant pioneers. With the challenges of climate change today, we need adaptable seeds to meet the needs of the changing planet. The first variety of Abenaki squash to be documented was the White Scallop squash. It appeared in a botanical illustration in 1591. Twenty years later when Samuel de Champlain sailed Vermont’s lake waters, he drew a map border that included a woman holding a White Scallop squash. Right here in Vermont, the Burlington Intervale’s silty riverbed soils were a supportive location for Abenaki agriculture. White Scallop squash is still grown and marketed here.
COVID-Wise field trip idea: Either as a group walk or bike ride, classes can all social distantly make their way down the Intervale on a bike path to the Ethan Allen Homestead. This cultural center is currently working with the Abenaki to correctly represent Vermont’s indigenous history.
Generations of seed protectors have enabled us to be sustained by nutrient-rich squash. It is very important to recognize the history of indigenous people around the country and here at home. A word used to encompass the Northeast tribes is Wabenaki. This term includes people in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and some of Connecticut. Unfortunately, European settlers were not respectful toward the indigenous communities when arriving in what we now call the Americas. Sadly, they treated the Abenaki with hostility and disrespect. Centuries of mistreatment of our original inhabitants continued thereafter. Some of the prejudice and violence reduced access to agricultural land and heritage food. Tribal leaders continue to address these wrongs and reclaim Abenaki rights to hunting and fishing and tribal recognition as Native artists. To share a more truthful picture of history during the Thanksgiving season, look at the resources at www.nmal.si.edu/education/thanksgiving.
As many of us already know, the Abenaki people inhabited much of Vermont, and more specifically the present day Burlington/Chittenden County area (see map above for approximate homes of each tribe). Skillful indigenous Vermonters learned over time what they could grow. Vermont summers are much shorter than our winters. Winter squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, and many other varieties of squashes are all storage crops that could help sustain people through the freezing winters. Each year, seed saving was, and still is, a vital part of the Abenaki food system. Saving seeds promotes long-term adaptations of crops and builds up the biodiversity on our planet. Seeds are harvested from a collection of their best plants. For example, seeds are harvested from a pumpkin that withstood fungal outbreak, another pumpkin that produced more flowers, yet another that grew out a higher volume of fruit. By planting out this vigorous collection of saved seed with desirable traits, a larger harvest might be achieved. Seed resilience offers a community a greater guarantee of nourishment. Seed banks hold millions of varieties of seeds all over the world and are deeply valued and necessary for life on Earth. As we feed a larger population each year and as the climate continues to change due to human activity, it is even more important for us to have the adaptable resilient seeds that seed banks can supply. Seeds saving at home contributes to this legacy of resilience and access to nourishment.
While most of us have learned about some of the violence and illnesses that tore through Native populations due to colonizers, there is much more that was hidden by the state of Vermont. In the 1920s and ’30s, Vermont created a eugenics policy to “purify” its citizens. Native people were targeted to be involuntarily sterilized. Many people changed their names multiple times or led a low-profile life in hopes of avoiding the state’s mistreatment. The University of Vermont played a large role in the movement. Their facilities were utilized for research and publications. Now deceased faculty member Henry Perkin was actively engaged in this work. Injustices of this magnitude can never truly be absolved, yet Vermont continues to work toward reparations. A few different bills have passed through the state legislature. In 2011, the Abenaki was finally recognized as a tribe by the state of Vermont. Other bills such as reparations for Abenaki lands and using Abenaki names for state parks are also in the works. Most recently in 2020, the Abenaki were fighting for their right to fish and hunt on Vermont land. The bill allows for Abenaki people to avoid the cost of purchasing a fishing permit. Being granted these rights allows them to connect further to their traditions and to their cultural food system. In 2020, Common Roots joined other farmers and gardeners and grew out Abenaki heritage seeds for the Abenaki Land Link project. The outcome of this collective project is increased Abenaki access to their heritage food seeds and monthly access to preserved squash, dried soup beans, and corn flour, a key part of food reparations that also reduces food access pressures during a pandemic.
To understand a more truthful picture of the First Thanksgiving, look to the resources at www.nmal.si.edu/education/thanksgiving.
There are two categories that squash fit in to—winter squash and summer squash. Winter squashes are also known as “hard” squashes and have inedible skin. Butternut and acorn squash are both examples of winter squash. Summer squashes are also known as “soft” squashes, and you can eat the skin of those squashes. Zucchini, yellow squash, White Scallop, and even delicata squash are summer squashes. Although they present themselves differently, both types of squash have the same plant parts.
Just like we learned about with the Three Sisters, Sister Squash is a vining plant. The vine produces small, curled tendrils that help the plant as it grows. The vine is covered in short, soft bristles and spines that help ward off pests and predators. The squash fruits grow off of the vines as well, which also produce star-shaped flowers.
The flower of the squash plant is where the fruit comes from. Squash plants bloom with beautiful yellow flowers, with 5 points just like a star.
The leaves of the squash plant are flat with ridges. The leaves are usually large and covered in soft bristles similar to the ones on the vines. This provides a natural protective layer for the leaves, which keeps them from getting stepped on or munched up by hungry critters!
The roots of the squash plant grow underground. The root structure consists of multiple roots rather than one main root with little roots shooting off of it. This type of structure provides the plant with stronger anchorage to the earth and allows for the plant to absorb more nutrients and water from the soil.
The fruit of the squash plant is the part of the plant that we eat. The fruit varies in shape and color depending on the variety of squash. In this case, the fruit of the plant would be the acorn squash. The fruit includes the skin, flesh, and seeds.
Depending on the variety of squash, the skin may be edible or inedible and may be any range of color. With hard squashes like acorn squash, the skin is inedible and should be peeled off or eaten around. This hard skin protects the squash fruit from potential invaders and diseases, just like our skin protects our bodies. With soft squashes, like yellow squash, delicata, White Scallop, and zucchini, the skin is perfectly edible and in fact is where the majority of fiber and nutrients are found!
Reminder: fiber keeps us full and it also helps to clean blockages from our digestive tracts.
In hard squashes, this is the main edible component of the squash. Oftentimes, the flesh of the squash is orange, signaling an abundance of vitamin A, which helps eyes, skin, and nails. The flesh is soft and sweet.
The seeds of the squash plant are found in the center of the flesh in a hollow pocket with a gooey hammock stringing them together. Seeds vary in their characteristics depending on the variety of squash they are collected from. All seeds are teardrop shaped, and in hard squashes they can be removed and roasted for a healthy snack. In soft squashes, they are more flimsy and can be eaten with the flesh. Because squash has seeds inside, it is considered to be a…you guessed it…fruit.
Reminders from Sister Squash:
After learning about all of Sister Squash’s special parts, we can remember how she grows in harmony with Sister Corn and Sister Bean. Her low vines provide shade and retain moisture for their roots, and her spiny leaves ward off hungry critters. It is also important to think about the importance of her radiant star flower.
The star flower that Sister Squash produces is a good reminder to say thank you to the sun, our brightest star, for the food that we are able to grow from the Earth. In order to grow food, we need the help of the four elements—Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. The Earth is the soil in which we plant our seeds to watch them grow. Water is a necessary source of nutrients for the plant, as is the Air, filled with carbon dioxide that the plants take in to grow big and strong. The Fire is heat, which comes from the Sun, which allows plants to photosynthesize and thrive.
4-7 year olds
When we’re talking about squash, we use so many S words! There are lots of them in this lesson. Can you remember them all? How many S words can you find in the Three Sisters legend? How many S words describe the parts of a squash? It’s a scavenger hunt!
- Seed Saving
- Star Flower
Math Activities: What’s in a Squash?
Oh, How Things Grow!
4-7 year olds
Hold a seed in your hands. How big is it? It’s small, right? What can you compare it to on your body? Is it bigger than your fingernail? Is it smaller than a finger? Does it weigh a lot or not?
Now, look at what that tiny seed can do. One tiny seed can make so many big, big things! One acorn squash
seed can make five new squashes. One butternut squash seed makes three or four new squashes. One pumpkin seed makes one or two huge new pumpkins! You can hold a seed with one hand, but what about the squashes it makes? Can you hold all of those? Are the squashes heavier or lighter than a seed? How many friends does it take to help hold the foods that each seed makes? Plan a squash recipe to prepare and share with your friends. Celebrate abundance and community.
All age groups
Cut open a squash and scoop out the seeds. Separate all the seeds from their gooey hammock, rinse and drain, and put in one big jar. Have students silently estimate the number of seeds.
Then split seeds up into smaller bowls, one for each student. Have students count how many seeds are in their bowl. Write all the numbers up on the board, and add together. Who was the closest to the correct answer?
8-12 year olds
After One Year: Now that we know there might be as many as 49 seeds in a squash, let’s pretend we have a huge garden. Let’s say we planted every single seed in the Earth, and each seed germinates to produce more fruit. If each plant produces two fruits, how many squash will we have? What if each plant produces three? Four? Five?
BONUS: Let’s say this year is Year 1. In Year 1, we have three seeds to plant that will produce an average of 49 seeds. Next year, Year 2, we plant about half of our seeds and they each germinate to yield an average of three squashes. At the end of Year 2, we harvest all of our squashes, scoop out the seeds, and save them for the next year. Year 3, we plant about half of the seeds. Again, each seed germinates and produces three new squashes. How many years will it take to grow out 1,000 squashes?
Earth to Table Connection: Wow! All of those squashes that you calculated began from one squash seed. Look at all the pounds of food you can produce for your family and friends just by saving the seeds from a single plant!
Which is the Squash for You? Different squash varieties will have different yields. The acorn squash plant has a high yield, with some varieties producing up to five fruits per plant. By comparison, butternut squash yields an average of three to four fruits per plant, while most pumpkin varieties yield only one to two fruits per plant. Different squash varieties also have different amounts of seeds inside. Try this activity with different squashes, and use the appropriate squash yield for each. Which squash do you want to plant in your garden? Acorn squash are smaller than butternut, but they have higher yield. Pumpkins are the biggest, but they have the smallest yield, and some people only eat them once a year. What is the best choice for your class or family?
Share your Seeds!
Don’t just save your seeds for yourself, share the wealth! By saving seeds from crops every year, you are ensuring abundance for years to come. Then, if a friend or neighbor is in need, you can help! Seeds are one of our most powerful ways to help one another—each seed contains the power to produce a whole plant’s worth of food and more seeds! How better to share your love?
Plants come from seeds. We all know that! So where do seeds come from? From plants! Seeds have been a source of wealth for many years. They might ensure that future generations can thrive. If something happens to the food source, you can plant seeds of your own. Yet what if nobody had planted squash seeds in a long time? Well, that’s where seed banks come in.
A seed bank is a place where seeds are stored. They are so important because they help preserve plant diversity and ensure different species of plants don’t disappear. Many plants that were eaten centuries ago by humans are less available today. Seed banks are a way to preserve plants, food history, and culture as well as preserve the heritage foods best suited to each culture’s dietary needs. For example, Native Americans who don’t have access to their traditional foods often suffer from diabetes.
Seed banks are also a way to address the changing climate. Seed banks are an important method of conservation, because they offer communities a source of climate-resilient seeds that can withstand changing local conditions. As challenges arise from climate change, community-based seed banks are one way to improve access to a diverse range of food.
If it weren’t for seed saving, we wouldn’t have the beautiful winter squashes that we do today! Indigenous peoples discovered the wild, inedible squash and transformed it by saving the original seeds and planting them out year after year for generations. Eventually, the plants adapted to different soils and climates and produced the yummy winter squash varieties we have today! We can direct our gratitude to the wisdom and generosity of these tribes and take up an important practice of saving our seeds.
Save to Solve: How Seed Savers Can Change the World
In our rapidly changing climate, one of the biggest issues of justice is around food and food access. Food comes from the Earth, but if the Earth is changing, so will our ability to grow food and make sure there is enough to go around.
Based on research experiences from various countries, it has been proven that community seed banks can enhance the resilience of farmers, especially in households and communities that are impacted deeply by climate change. Community seed banks can improve access to, and availability of, diverse, locally adapted crops and plant varieties. Seed banks also preserve years of indigenous knowledge and skills in plant management.
This past year during COVID-19, there was a seed shortage when so many people decided it was time to grow their own food. Seed distributors actually ran out of some of their seed varieties. This is why individual and community seed saving is so important—to ensure food access for generations.
Teen to Adult
Although food is universal and should be available to everybody, there are some folks who do not agree. At the moment, four big seed companies control 60% of the global seed market. Why is that an issue? Because that means they can set the price of seeds higher and higher and make them harder to access. It also means that they get to pick and choose which seeds they want to sell, which poses a major threat to plant diversity.
We need plant diversity for many reasons, but especially because monocultures are not resilient. There is strength in diversity. By interplanting different crops in one location, there is greater access to soil nutrients and even improved soil structure and nutrients. One disease generally won’t wipe out an interdependent plant community. It is more likely when a crop of thousands of the same plant is sown in one area that diseases and climate shift can pose a major threat.
When big companies control all the seeds, then gardeners and farmers can face less choice and higher prices. By supporting more democratic seed systems—whether you’re buying seeds from a company that aligns with your values (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a great example), visiting your local seed bank, or growing and saving your own seeds—we can begin to take back control of our seed supply. Simultaneously, we can actively conserve, improve, and generate more diversity and resilience on our farms and in our backyards.
Ages 4-7, 8-12
One seed has the power to do so much good. From one seed, we can grow many more fruits, which have many more seeds, which grow many more fruits—and so on. Even just one seed is a priceless gift to do endless good and provide so much food to fill our tummies and the tummies of our friends, families, and neighbors. With the help of school gardens, we can be hunger heroes! We can plant our saved seeds and grow delicious, healthy food for so many people. Let’s get started!
Our Soil, Ourselves
Ages 12 and up
Chief Seattle famously said, “What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.” Why is this true, we might ask? This is true because we get our energy and life from the Earth. We grow our food in her soil, we put our houses upon her ground, we breathe the air of her atmosphere into our lungs. When we cause damage to the Earth, we are also causing damage to ourselves. How can we grow nutritious food in depleted soil? How can we have healthy bodies if we breathe contaminated air and drink polluted water? We are fundamentally entwined with the Earth.
Thankfully, it goes both ways—when we replenish her soil with nutrients, we are ensuring that we will grow more nutritionally rich foods for our own bodies. When we protect our waterways, we protect the minerals we drink in water. When we plant trees and other strong plants, we help purify the air we inhale into our lungs.
When the Earth is healthy, so are we. When she is hurting, we are as well. As her stewards, it is our job to protect and nurture her as she provides for us.
Dennee, JoAnne, et al. In the Three Sisters Garden. Food Works, 2001.
Wiseman, Frederick Matthew. Seven Sisters: Ancient Seeds and Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and
the Chesapeake Bay Region. Earth Haven Learning Centre Inc., 2018.
Additional Resources for Young Readers:
Here are some traditional stories about the seeds adapted by JoAnne Dennee.
Sky Woman Comes to Turtle Island
Little Dawn Boy
Additional Resources for Educators:
Rethinking Schools publishes resources for many equity and justice. issues. We recommend Reimagining the Language Arts Classroom: Resources for Joy and Justice by LInda Christensen. Available in PDF and hard copy.
TIME, November 19, 2018. An article on Sean Sherman of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. Sean encourages us all to look at the foods indigenous to where we live – nuts, greens, herbs, mushrooms – and enter into a curious and respectful relationship with the seasonal landscape and its sustenance.
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s bestseller Braiding Sweetgrass offers a blend of chapters about seasonally harvested wild foods and indigenous culture as well as her journey into the world of science that professed the human connection to harvesting plants had no impact on the plant community’s ability to increase and sustain Native people.
Unlearning “Indian” Stereotypes DVD and learning guide from Rethinking Schools.
Seed Saving From Generation to Generation:. An Activity Guidebook K-12. By Eli Rugosa Kaufman available from email@example.com. S publication of Fedco Seeds.
Handbook of Abenaki Crafted Foods by Fred Wiseman coming soon.
“Abenaki Land Link Project Sows Resiliency” describes a 2020 partnership between Farm to Plate and NOFA-VT. Abenaki seed and indigenous foods are grown out by 15 growers including Common Roots to supply the Abenaki seed bank and local grown indigenous foods to those Abenaki in need. https://www.vtfarmtoplate.com/features/abenaki-land-link-sows-resiliency#.X9kYKOlKjs1