Modern Candy Roaster: Strarting from a legacy Appalachian landrace of Cucurbita maxima

In the time since I joined this community, I have been thinking more often about the many traditional landraces that already exist. One result of this line of thinking has been that I have identified potential projects that involve collecting, maintaining, and vitalizing historic landraces.

One such project which I am committed to will be to grow Candy Roasters at my farm on a consistent basis. There are several sources of Cucurbita maxima seed from the legacy Candy Roaster landrace, and among the existing sources, some represent inbred cultivars while others retain some but not all of the documented diversity that used to exist.

Modern Candy Roaster Landrace
I am calling this project the Modern Candy Roaster because while I am interested in trying to maintain the type as it is and has been, there is a chance this project will lead to squash which are distinct(or don’t do justice to the original!)

What I have learned so far is that the Candy Roaster squash is a landrace developed by the Cherokee people in the southern Appalachians. It is variable in size and shape with more than 40 distinct forms according to Bill Best at the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. Candy roasters consistently feature sweet, fine-textured orange flesh, while varying in size from 10 lbs to more than 250 lbs; shape (including round, cylindrical, teardrop, and blocky); and color (pink, tan, green, blue, gray, and orange).

Sources of Candy Roaster diversity that I am working with:

  • Bill Best’s Candy Roaster - Sourced from Haywood County, NC and distributed by the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. They can weigh up to fifty pounds and more and can be over four feet long. Believed to still have some diversity from the landrace.
  • North Georgia Candy Roaster - Small, uniform fruits, a cultivar selected from the landrace
  • Unknown candy roaster - This is where my interest started when I bought one from a produce display in EKY. I was aware of the term candy roaster but didn’t know anything about it. Club shaped banana, orange/pink, 20lbs, sweet flesh, 2 fruit per vine, large vines, large leaves, true breeding so probably inbred, but will be making a commitment this year to growing this out for crossing in multiple locations since I have a lot of seed
  • Candy Roaster Melon Winter Squash - From Western NC., 6-30 lb Pinkish-orange fruits with some blue-green color. Ribbed pumpkin shape, big vines. Part of the Ark of Taste project. Matches the description of one of two Candy Roaster types that were described in a 1920 North Carolina newspaper article.
  • Gete Okosomin or Kentucky Squash - Stewarded by the people of the Miami Nation of Indiana, the name translates to “cool old squash” in the Anishinaabe language. It looks a lot like a Candy Roaster, and comes from the same general region, although the original source was from the Miami Nation instead of the Cherokee.

The coming season is the first that I will be growing most of these and it will be the first year for crosses. I do look forward to sharing my progress, and hearing from anyone else with Candy Roaster experience or interest.

14 Likes

I’ve grown “north georgia candy roaster” and gete oksomin from I think at least 2 sources in Canada: heritage harvest seed and prairie garden seeds. They never produced fully ripe seeds here, though they produced a ton of vines and baby squash, and doubtless incorporated pollen into my landrace. At least one was long, banana shaped, buff, with iirc a green cap at the flower end; I think the other one was a little rounder.

I’m not going to grow them again here; if you like I could send on the rest of the packets of my seed.

2 Likes

I would definitely be interested, thank you! I’ll send a PM

2 Likes

Very interesting. I’m putting them in my Maxima landrace. Seed via baker creek. It’ll be interesting to see what turns up in your project.

2 Likes

-Not my photos-


th-1382001436


4 Likes

Now I’m imagining a 250 pound squash! :open_mouth:

I don’t want one that big, that’s for sure. I want squashes I can reasonably open, eat half of, and store the other half in the fridge to eat the next day. A typical banana squash size works for me.

I can see a monster that big being fun for a big community meal, though.

1 Like

Not sure what banana squash variety you’ve used. Those I grew up with were about three feet long and 12 inches in diameter.

1 Like

Yeah, that sounds about like the size I’ve seen and purchased. I think those are usually about 10-15 pounds, aren’t they? Maybe 20.

There are candy roaster vines growing as I write this message. :smiley: Last year was my first year growing squash in this garden, and a flood at this time last year changed the water table, so it’s been like starting over again in terms of determining what to plant where.

I intend to add photos soon. There are no fruits appearing yet, but the vines have started flowering.

4 Likes


Here are two of the sites where candy roasters have been doing well. There are about eight other vines in other places that are the same size or smaller. I put out six that I grew and starts, and I put out seeds in several more places. I will be happy if I can collect fruit from half a dozen different vines, but I would be even more happy if there are more vines than that.

No irrigation or any other amendments. Growing on occultized lawn that is a mix of grass, moss, and edible greens. It hasn’t been sodded or seeded with grass in at least 15 years, that’s more to the point I’m trying to make.

5 Likes

I like your hole in box planting idea.

1 Like

Thank you for saying so! In case anyone is interested in trying this, I want to clarify that the center was covered by cardboard too for a period of time, after which I removed the cover from that part and direct seeded.

I have access to cardboard in greater quantities from a nearby grocery store, but health didn’t allow me to take as much advantage as I would like. Small zones like this work pretty good even in the absence of a larger supply of cardboard on hand.

2 Likes

Yes, me too @markwkidd totally think the cardboard box mulch is a great idea!
I have to remember that system for next spring, when i get my super weedy township lot back and won’t be able to hoe all the weeds

1 Like

Powdery mildew is in the garden, but so far it doesn’t seem to be harming the candy roaster vines too much. Still no fruit on any of them, but this is representative of the growth on my healthy individuals on a couple of other beds as well.

1 Like

In general, the candy roaster vines have done as well or better than all other species and varieties. They have withstood powdery mildew well as a group.

Like almost all varieties other than the cushaws, the majority of individual vines never grew more than seven or eight leaves, and the leaves were smaller than expected for a healthy squash vine. Those small vines are often now putting on new growth, like some from other species that also stalled over the summer, but I doubt there will be any viable seeds.

I currently am tracking three vines with fruit that I think will be ripe enough to produce good seeds. They all look like they are banana shaped (I did not separate the plantings into different subtypes of candy roasters). It’s possible they all could be descendants of the Indiana produce stand candy roaster since I had the most seeds of that type, but there may be other banana phenotypes in the mix, and there certainly were opportunities for cross pollination even if I only harvest descendants of the produce stand candy roaster.

From the looks of things, the three out there will not grow to be particularly large, they’re a little hard to spot in the grass in these photos but I will share in case it’s of interest.



2 Likes

I had several candy roaster vines flowering, and even starting to produce fruit late in the season, but in the end I have harvested only these two with fully-formed seeds.

As things stand, I do plan to continue this project next year. I am leaning toward introducing more genetic variety next year, but I’m still thinking it over.

3 Likes

Oooh. I grew a couple Gete-Okosomin vines on a whim last year, not usually much of a winter squash person, just a seed packet I happened to have. They were the shining, gargantuan monster star of my otherwise tortured 2023 garden. They became squash soup. The best squash soup I’ve ever tasted.

So, I’ll be growing those squashes again. I decided to hold back some of the seed for next year just in case, but also start a maxima landrace with the Gete-Okosomin seeds featuring heavily, mixed with GTS mix and see whether I like other maxima types/what comes out of hybrids. If Candy Roasters are similar to Gete-okosomin, that would be cool for adding more varieties Im likely to enjoy.

4 Likes

Ooooh. That pleases me immensely to hear, because I dumped a packet of Gete-Okosomin into my mix of random maxima seeds to give a try. Hopefully I’ll grow one eventually! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

1 Like

I think Gete-Okosomin is a logical choice for increasing the genetic diversity of a candy roaster-type population. It seems like we can definitely justify imagining that it may even be historically connected.

I am collaborating with another grower locally this year who, like me, had poor results last year. Comparing our experiences, we started thinking that one issue may be that one of our common seed sources may have had low viability.

For 2024 we are starting with seeds from five different candy roaster sources, plus I will plant Going to Seed maxima seeds. I’m hoping that this approach will produce more fruit.

4 Likes