Pumpkins: Portals to the Past (with Maw’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe)


| 11/9/2020 7:30:00 PM


Farm Family With Pumpkinsw And Truck

Heirloom seeds, with extensive diversity, consistent productivity and incredibly delicious flavor, are special. Whether they journeyed to a garden tucked into immigrants’ pockets or continued to thrive where they originated, heirloom seeds are special because they are tied to human stories. Some, such as the delicious ‘Bradford’ watermelon or the ‘Carolina African Runner’ peanut, both of which nearly became extinct, are famous.

While they hold no claim to fame outside our family, my grandmother’s pumpkins are as intriguing as Carolina African peanuts and as delicious as Bradford Watermelons. With every successful harvest, I recall her voice, her unique laugh, and her delight in hosting an annual Pumpkin Gathering for her great-grandchildren.

Ethel Hamby, “Maw” to her grands and greats, was not a stereotypical grandmother. She preferred reading to cooking, traveling to cleaning house and she always set her alarm clock for 9:30 am, because she did not want to miss “too much” of the day.  She grew an annual garden that included lettuce, corn, squash, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, fall greens and marigolds, but her favorite crop was pumpkin.

Connecting to Food Heritage with Pumpkin Seed-Saving

I never asked where Maw obtained the pumpkin seeds, but I suspect they came to her from her mother’s family. There are exceptions, but heirloom seeds typically passed from mother to daughter, a sort of dowry for new brides who grew food to sustain growing families. Native Americans grew pumpkins, which are indigenous to North American and at some point, must have shared these special seeds with Maw’s ancestors, but that story is lost to time.



Maw’s pumpkins, with lengthy, snaky vines, claimed a large portion of her garden and she delighted in watching the progress of fruit that quickly grew from small green orbs into a variety of winter squash. Smaller pumpkins weighed just a few pounds, but larger ones could top out around 50 pounds. Before her oldest great-grandchildren were school age, Maw began a tradition that continued until her death, at age 90, in 1994.



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