The Bear Path Squash

A food historian details recovering a "lost" Pennsylvania Dutch Heirloom squash.

| Spring 2014

  • This "barnyard squash" can be found growing naturally in parts of Pennsylvania.
    Photo courtesy

In my ongoing search for “lost” American heirlooms, one of the largest unexplored regions lies in southeastern and central Pennsylvania. This is an area known as the “Dutch Country,” the heartland of Pennsylvania Dutch regional culture, comprising some 25 counties and covering an area roughly the same size as Switzerland.

While many Americans incorrectly imagine that Pennsylvania Dutch means Amish (the Amish religious sect represents only about 5 percent of the total Pennsylvania Dutch population), the huge diversity of people and microclimates in this rich farming region continues to yield its secrets in unexpected and very un-Amish places.

In fact, one the most recent discoveries is a remarkable squash found this past summer “naturalized” along a picket fence on the grounds of Kutztown University in Berks County, Pennsylvania. There, right in open view to the world was an heirloom that has been endemic to the region for a very long time. 

Actually, I had first run across this squash in 1974 while having dinner at the Fleetwood home of late Pennsylvania Dutch folklorist John Joseph Stoudt (1912-1981). Mrs. Stoudt had cooked the squash and used a few to decorate the table. The striking beauty of the fruit remained in my mind, and I asked at the time what it was called.

It had no name. Mrs. Stoudt had found a huge patch of it growing across the former lawn of an abandoned farmhouse along Dryville Road, barely half a mile from where the Stoudts lived. A few years before that, a neighbor found it growing in the graveyard of the Lutheran Church at New Jerusalem a few miles away.

I did not think to ask for seeds then, but I did when I visited the Stoudts again — only to be told that they had not bothered to keep seeds because they did not have a garden. I remember driving up to the abandoned farmhouse, which is still there today, but someone had mowed the tall grass around it and there were no signs of squash.



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