The Local Food Report: Boston Marrow Squash

Ok, so technically this is the round end of an orange Hubbard squash. It's not a Boston Marrow, though the two are look alikes, at least from this angle. While the Hubbard lacks the curved, elongated neck of the Boston Marrow, it could easily pass from behind.

I would have a picture of the real deal, rather than this imposter, but it's been impossible to find. I visited farmers' market after market, farm stand after stand, and to no avail. The Boston Marrow squash truly is disappearing.

But there is one less tangible place I've encountered it. Tucked between the careful pages of local food author Gary Nabhan's book, Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods, there it was. In bright and glossy orange, it jumped from the page with startling statistics. Brought to popularity in the mid-1800s, the squash can now be found from only two commercial seed companies: D. Landreth Seed and Heritage Harvest Seed.

Even one of the companies Nabhan lists in his book as one of the last to sell the seeds no longer does. Those have been hard to get for a while, now, the friendly operator informed me. We stopped carrying them a few years back. It's no surprise, then, that the squash are disappearing from our dinner tables.

The time to save the squash, if we decide too, is now. That's the easy part, of course. You simply order the seeds instead of Hubbard or butternut, and nurse the tiny seedlings through the spring. A year from now, you'll serve your friends a stunning pie or soup or autumn gratin, and they'll wonder at the magnificent taste. It won't be hard at all to do, you simply have to choose to.

If you need convincing, Nabhan's written a load of books on the subject. There's Where our Food Comes From, which tells the story of a great Soviet botanist who traveled the world in search of seeds to ward against hunger. There's Coming Home to Eat, on the pleasures and politics of eating locally, and plenty of other more specific reads, too. In case you need to munch while you read, here's Nabhan's recipe for the ancient New England standing dish of Boston Marrow Squash. If all else fails, you can always grab a Hubbard.

adapted from Gary Nabhan's Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods

Serves 6-8

Slice and dice about 4 lbs. Boston Marrow squash. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot half full with squash, and cover with water. Cook over low heat (preferably on a woodstove, where you can leave it to stew all day). When water is largely evaporated and squash is tender, remove from heat and add (to 4 cups squash) 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Mix well and serve hot.

To see the New York Times' map of Gary Nabhan's 13 food nations, click here. Roll mouse over "Clambake Nation" for a list of 12 endangered foods in our area.


Totoherbs said...

Allandale Farm (www.allandalefarm.com) in Brookline had both the Boston Marrow and Sibley this year. I was not able to get my hands on the sibley, but I have did manage to get a few marrows.

From what I have heard it was not a good year for allendale and it shows in their squash. They are all weeping and starting to rot. So much for trying to winter them.

Bie said...

Elspeth,Maybe Boston Marrow and Sibley are hard to keep. The recipe sounds good, worth trying!Hugs,Biee

Anonymous said...

I heard your story on Marrow squash on WCAI this morning and wanted you to know that the Wellfleet Community Forum is presenting a program on Endangered Species, November 17, 7 pm, at the Council On Aging. I hope you can come and share this perspective on preventing extinction, and also the impact of global rather than local marketing on the planet's diversity of species.

Elspeth said...

Totoherbs: Glad you found a source, but sorry to hear it was a bit of a disappointment! How was the squash you were able to eat?

Terry: Thank you for the invite. I have it marked on my calendar!

Biee: I will keep trying, as soon as I get my hands on one.


Anonymous said...

Boston Marrow Squash seeds may be purchased at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds www.rareseeds.com

Anonymous said...

As an experiment, I purchased Boston Marrow Squash from a Burpee heirloom seed display. They are amazing! I excitedly check them every day to revel in their increasing girth. A few are the size of a basketball and growing quite orange. I found your blog when I googled, trying to find information on when to harvest them. I also planted Burpee's heirloom Dragon's Tongue beans. This is a repeat crop for me. They are not only showy (pale yellow marbled with violet), but very productive and tasty.

Elspeth said...


Yum, yum, yum! You will have to let us know when you eat your first squash...what you do with it, how it tastes, etc.

All the best,

Unknown said...

I got my seed from: cherrygal.com
Currently have 2 that are on the vine that will top 15# and several small ones coming on.

Elspeth said...

wow! 15 pounds? those seeds sound like keepers...

Anonymous said...

I have grown Boston Marrow squash this year and purchased the seeds via the Heirloom collection. I received 7 seeds in the packet. Six of them germinated and I have just cut one off today 9/4/09. It is about 10 lbs. and very orange and has a ripling outside texture similar to the old blue hubbards that I knew in my younger days. I also have 5 other Boston Marrow squash coming [one huge one that will go 20lbs. easily. The others might make 10lbs. I wanted to look up a cooking recipe and found this one which sounds delicious. I DO plan to save the seeds and should have a good amount by the end of fall.

Elspeth said...

Wow, 20 lbs! it sounds like you will need many, many recipes ;) sounds like squash soup is in order.

all the best,

Unknown said...

Two vines netted me five mature marrows, ranging from 11-23 pounds. It also netted the ground hogs double that.
Seeds are abundant. I could plant several acres next year :)
Texture is smooth and creamy. Same goes for taste. Wife has used it in bread recipies, as a roll up with cream cheese and served it as a side dish in place of mashed potatoes and she has several more recipies on the agenda.
Acorn, butternut and crookneck are the standard fare around here (mid Mississippi valley) and the biggest difference I've noticed is it takes much longer to cook the marrow.

Anonymous said...

The Boston Marrow will make a comeback. I purchased seeds and tried to grow them this summer but the garden was too shady and all the flowers dropped off. I will try again next year after I amend my soil in a new location. I hope to make pie for my son in 2011 with these squashes!

Cynthia, community gardener, Dorchester, MA

Anonymous said...

Here in Virginia we have no problem finding the Boston Marrow seed. They sell them in spring at Lowe's Store. I have planted the pumpkin for two years now and have tons of seed I saved.

Anonymous said...

I have a good clutch of Boston Marrow Seeds I ordered from Baker Creek Seeds. They also now own Comstock Ferry Seeds in Connecticut. This company prides itself on heirloom seeds. I intend to enter a Boston marrow in the MOFGA Common Ground Fair, in Unity Maine later this month. Does anyone know how to identify a truly ripe one? I have enough to choose from & I want a ribbon! I will be happy to send a photo of a Boston Marrow for you to use here.. I also have Aunt Thelma's sweet Potato and (I think) an Italian Butternut that is called Violin. Please consider coming up to the fair. It is heaven for Gardeners. This Boston native moved up here to be closer to the fair!

Anonymous said...

Hello, locavore!

I stumbled upon your blog when searching for info on the Boston Marrow. I am a market farmer, and I ordered Canada Crookneck squash seeds from Heritage Harvest Seed to grow next season. They graciously thrown in the order a free packet of Boston Marrow. Now that I have the seeds, the fate is sealed, I have to grow it!

I am pretty excited with what I am finding out about the Boston Marrow, but I can kinda understand why it is being abandoned. The thing is that winter squash over 5 lbs are a very hard sell with customers, who are a little intimidated with the giants ones. At 10-20 lbs for the Boston Marrow, it's going to take some pretty seriously dedicated buyers. Moreover, because space in the truck is quite limited when going to market, the Boston Marrow will be sold at the farm stand only.

Anyway, I am very much looking forward to see how this one perform here. I love growing heirloom squash!


Unknown said...

If you have the time, be creative and sell them as ornamentals. You can make some very intriguing jack o lanterns out of them and kids seem to be drawn to the shape. I can't sell them to eat either. That's a pity :(

Anonymous said...

Grew them this year. 15Lbs was the smallest 34Lbs was the largest. It is a beautiful squash. It is on the watery side and I had to double the baking time on it. Halfway through baking it, I emptied the excess water out of the pan. It is very mild flavored. I will not be growing it next year but it was sure fun to try. I tend to like the drier, sweeter & richer flavored squash like the buttercups, kabochas (Confection is superb) and the Aussie varieties (i.e. Australian Butter, Triamble & Crown).

Unknown said...

Apparently it's not even supposed to have a neck and the ones without the neck that are smaller taste better.

Unknown said...

Last year, my husband bought some Boston Marrow seedlings from a neighborhood lady, we knew nothing about them, but became pretty excited once they 'took off' and we watched the fruits growing. The largest was 26 pounds, and I waited til about the second week of September to pick it. I took it to my work, commercial kitchen, to deal with, as it was much too large for my tiny home kitchen. I used the puree to make 6 squash pies for a harvest supper, and they were delicious. I saved seeds and grew more this year, I have at least 4 that will be 25+ lbs. and a few smaller ones. I have a big freezer and will save the puree for baking and soups. We live in Northern Vermont and started the seeds indoors in early March. No problems with diseases except some powdery mildew is showing up now.

Christopher said...

Fine method of telling, and enjoyable article to acquire factual statements.

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Joseph Howarth said...

I wantsquash process automation. From where i can get?

Unknown said...

Victory seeds or Baker heirloom seeds


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