Last summer, Kayla and I met a wonderful couple. Phil and Lettie had seen Kayla sing in church that morning, and we struck up a conversation in the cookbook section of the Barnes and Noble.
Phil and Lettie are from South Africa. Phil was the International Director of Health and Safety in the pharmaceutical division of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Phil spent his career traveling the world inspecting factories and training staff. He has a PhD in occupational health, and, as you can guess, is a very sharp guy. After he retired, he took up wood carving, and his work is absolutely beautiful. He organizes a wood carving show each year that receives attendees from all over the country.
That afternoon at the B&N, Phil and Lettie told us about a squash native to South Africa, the gem squash. They could not find a gem squash anywhere in the United States, and they missed this wonderful taste of their childhood. I promised that if they could find the seeds, I would grow gem squash for them in our Three Sisters garden.
It was not easy for Phil to find the gem seeds. Rare heirloom seeds can be difficult to obtain because they are sometimes only kept alive by heritage gardeners as a hobby. Second, heirloom seeds from other countries are doubly difficult to find because of strict protocols around importing seeds. Some governments carefully guard their seeds, and do not allow them to be sent out of the country, to maintain national exclusivity of prized lines of vegetables.
Phil was able to find the seeds from a producer in Michigan, and we planted them. As far as we know, the only South African gem squash you will find in America are up in Michigan, in New Mexico, Florida, and now in Rockport, TX.
In addition to the gem seeds, Phil was also able to find seeds for a South African pumpkin, called the Boer pampoen. You can see this pumpkin, just getting started, in the picture above. This pumpkin will grow as big around as a bicycle tire, and I don’t know how much it will weigh. We will check in on the giant South African pumpkin later.
Stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods for a South African gem squash of your own , or call Kimmi to reserve a few. We have a limited number available this year, and will have a bigger harvest next year with the seeds we save. We hope you are able to try one and enjoy a taste of something very rare.
One other thing: That first afternoon at the B&N, Phil suggested we visit “Vic and Marsha’s” Sunday school class at the FBC in Rockport. Phil explained that Vic is basically a Bible historian, and Marsha is a wonderful chaplain, and in their classes they teach the history of the Bible as well as Biblical lessons. Not only did Phil and Lettie become dear friends, but so did Vic and Marsha, and many other people in the class.
We are so glad to have bumped into Phil and Lettie that afternoon. What a gift they are.