Joumou Conquers Detroit!

Le premiere joumou de Detroit

Fittingly perhaps, on a day set aside to commemmorate (if not exactly celebrate) the first landing of Cristobal Colon and his three-ships-full of conquistadores, somewhere in the Bahamas, Chef Geraud has harvested his first Detroit-adapted Haitian joumou squash. And a fine, hale and hefty squash it is, me hearties!

We watched & worried over the joumou all summer, as the running tips reached a few extra feet each day (it seemed), and the sun-bright female blossoms slowly birthed dark green belly-bubbles, and the little dark green bubbles blew up into pale, striped, heavily pregnant orbs.

So today Chef Geraud, midwife to our food, delivered the first of the crop. I wonder about its ancestral migrations, its origins and wanderings. But, as Duryodhana says of Karna in the ancient Indian epic story of India’s birth, the Mahabharata, “Birth is obscure, and men are like rivers, whose origins are often unknown.” And so it is for squashes, as for men.

Varieties of squashes (genus Cucurbita)  originated, botanists say, in Mesoamerica, where they were first cultivated 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, where they wound their  tendrils greedily up corn stalks and into the hearts and bellies of the first American people, who honor them as one of the Three Sisters of cuisine: maize, beans, and squash.

I imagine these hardy edible seeds, prized also as medicine, tossed out everywhere the squashes were cut open to be cooked fresh or dried, or carried as a snack, like we do now, trail food for long hikes and water voyages, wending their adaptable way throughout Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, then north into North America, to the Odawa and Potawatomi and Ojibwe people of Michigan, borne by people, or birds, or like Karna, borne by the waters to their new home.

Karna, the generous warrior

And so the Chef and I are re-telling an old story, as old as Karna, the warrior abandoned as a baby in a basket among the reeds, as old as the Mahabharata story of the battle for the Ganges River valley. As old as the chinampas of Mexico, and older. We are handmaidens to the Squash Story, wet-nurses to the Second Sister, helping her spread her restless tendrils into our Zone 6 front yard in Detroit. No matter our status is lowly; we are well rewarded. Bring on the Soup Joumou!


About Karen F. Dimanche Davis

Associate Professor and Director, Cultural Studies, Emerita, Marygrove College

Posted on October 11, 2011, in Cucurbita, Joumou. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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