There aren’t many gardeners, or farmers for that matter, that try their hand at raising pumpkins in this gorgeous but hot and humid former swamp we call home. Most pumpkins -especially heirlooms- are better suited to colder climates, with a few exceptions. One of them is a native pumpkin, raised for hundreds if not thousands of years by Native Americans here and then by the “crackers” who came after them and on to the current generation. It’s called the Seminole Pumpkin, and I’m giving it a try.
The other type, a centuries-old French heirloom, I selected for sheer beauty. I’m not sure how well Rouge Vif D’Etampes will grow here but it is so beautiful in its curves and deep, glowing color that I will do my best to make it happy. According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which specializes in seeds from the 1800s, this “classic heirloom was mentioned by famous French seed house, Vilmorin, as the most popular pumpkin in Parisian markets of the 1880s. The name translates to “Vivid red from Etampes” a nod to the medieval town just south of Paris where it was grown for market.”
I soaked four seeds of each variety overnight and planted in pots June 30, 2019. You can watch my progress or you can have us grow you some of your own to try.
Rouge Vif D’Etampe
aka “Cinderella Pumpkin”
This gorgeous pumpkin variety was extremely popular in the 1700s and 1800s, where it was bought in French farmers’ markets for its picture-perfect shape and the tasty broth made from its bright orange flesh. It’s the pumpkin Disney modeled Cinderella’s coach after, and I’ve wanted to try growing them for years. Just looking at the lovely pictures reminds me of Émile Zola’s novel “The Belly of Paris,” in which the author describes, with a painter’s artistic sensibilities and the precision of a journalist, all the beautiful colors, smells and tastes of the open air Parisian foodmarkets of the 1850s. The novel was published in 1873.
Here’s what I’m hoping they fruit like:
Here’s where the embryonic vines were when I started the journey. I soaked four of the seeds, bought from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and planted them in Black Gold potting soil (bought it at Ace Hardware on U.S. 1) the next morning, June 30, 2019. Because I’m starting them indoors on the tile, right by the wall of windows that face out to the pond, I gave the pot a shopping bag “diaper” to collect the runoff water. (One more of a million uses I have for those things). Note that Baker Creek states the seed become available in the U.S. in the 1800s. I personally suspect it is much older. Some sources speculate the 1700s or before, since the original pumpkin ancestor was brought to Europe in the 1600s after the “discovery” of the New World and the exportation of its native crops. Read more about RVdE’s association with the fairy tale genre here.
But, I digress. Here are the seeds as planted:
A mere five days later:
Besides sporting huge leaves, the seedlings close up at night. We transplanted the French heirloom outside and by July 26, it had grown leaves bigger than my face.
Seminole pumpkins are native to Florida and have been grown here for hundreds, if not thousands of years by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, according to the University of Florida page about the pumpkins. UF’s professors maintain that Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable pumpkins for Florida gardens. An article in the peer-reviewed-journal Economic Botany indicates that the species thrives in pumpkin hostile territory such as the Everglades, and has been cultivated in Florida for millennia. Multiple sources state the Seminoles would grow the squash at the base of trees, so that the long, vigorous vines could climb and be supported.
I intend to replicate this experiment by growing beneath my mystery native tree, which has grown tall and strong since it rooted in my sandy yard sometime in the last 10 years.
Unlike Cinderella Pumpkins, the eventual appearance of Seminole Pumpkins is in doubt. There appear to be several different varieties that vary in shape and size though all are sold as “Seminole Pumpkin.” Another blogger, David the Good of The Survival Gardener, started a blog and requested that people growing the variety share the final product as well as the origin of the seeds they grew. The results are enlightening, as the pumpkins range from round to oblong to slightly ridged to deeply ridged. There is even a type that looked like a swan-neck gourd. You can read the results of that project here.
With our modern tools, organic soils and fertilizers and know how, it should be easy for us Floridians to grow it as well as the natives, right? Well, we’ll see about that! I’ll post updates here. For now:
Five days later:
By July 26, the plants had been transplanted and looked like this. The leaves are smaller than the RVdE; they are a little bigger than a woman’s hand.