The North Georgia Candy Roaster, fancy name Cucurbita Maxima is yet another one of those “light bulb on” type of plants. The type of plant that when you find it, it’s like really, this was here the whole time?
Up North, squash is easy. People joke about having so much surplus zucchini that they have to drop it on the neighbor’s porch and run. Down here it is a little more complicated. It’s not that you can’t grow squash here, you can. It just requires a lot of timing and effort. You have to wait until temperatures warm up, but not too much. You have to treat for mildews and rot once it starts raining. And once you get your plant established, you have to treat for squash vine borers or you will come out one morning and find the whole thing in a mushy mess.
Again, its not that you can’t, but by the time you buy the neem, the kaiolin clay, the BT and everything else you need to baby your squash, its just not worth it. If only there was a squash made for Florida. One that could take the heat of summer, bear the rains without molding, and stand up to those borers once and for all. Wait what? There is? (well of course there is or we wouldn’t be this far into an article)
Enter the North Georgia Candy Roaster, or as I like to call it, the NaGa. Possibly one of my favorite plants in the world.
This rare heirloom variety was originally cultivated by the Cherokee Indians in the Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern portion of the United States. It is still most often grown in parts of northern Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Like many of the winter squashes enjoyed in America, this one continues to be cultivated because of seeds provided by Native Americans. The North Georgia Candy Roaster Squash is part of a group of candy roaster squashes that were all cultivated by the Cherokee and vary in shape from oblong to round and in size from 10 pounds to over 200. The North Georgia Candy Roaster is a large oblong squash that develops a bluish tip on maturity.
This squash is both versatile and hardy. I have found no equal for growing squash in Florida. One of the few plants that can take Florida’s summer heat and rains, the NaGa will soak it all up and sprawl everywhere. It is large and almost invasive, so give it plenty of room to grow. It needs lots of sun and water, but for a squash, it is very low maintenance. Its stem is thick and woody which repels squash borers and it is naturally resistant to powdery mildew and other fungi. If you harvest the fruits small, they look and taste like yellow squash. If you leave some to mature though, they will grow into 4 foot long banana shaped fruits. They develop a hard rind like a pumpkin and can store up to 6 months if kept somewhere cool.
Although it was originally valued by the Cherokee people for its hardiness, it is appreciated now for its unique taste. The candy roaster has a rich, sweet taste, similar to a sweet potato that only improves with storage. Delicious both as a vegetable and in pies and other baked goods, it is also recognized by the Arc of Taste.
So yes, this delicious, easy to grow plant that doubles as both a summer and a winter squash has been here the whole time. Give the NaGa a try and see how easy it can be.