South African Gem Squash

Gem Squash Companion Planted with Collards and Cabbage

Gem Squash Companion Planted with Collards and Cabbage

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.

Gem Squash with Flower, almost ready

Gem Squash with Flower, almost ready

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.

Boer Pampoen Pumpkin, just started

Boer Pampoen Pumpkin, just started

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.

Gem Squash, large

Gem Squash, large

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.      

Phil with Gem Squash, and a gift of gooseberries!

43 responses

  1. The gem squash is a mix between zuchinni and pumpkin. It is a summer squash, but could actually be considered a winter squash when allowed to grow larger: the seeds are more or less in a compartment in middle, and the skin gets thicker (although still edible) when the squash gets bigger.

    Last night, my wife sliced a large “cannonball” (cannonball is the nickname for this squash) sized gem squash in half across the center, and baked it in the oven 30 minutes at 350 degrees with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil. It was mild with a very unique flavor; more of a pumpkin than zuchinni taste.

    Gem can also be boiled, sauteed, or grilled. I will post a recipe for this squash when we decide which method we like best. Thanks Farmgal!

  2. A very interesting article, I am also growing Gem Squash, Boer Pampoen and Souties Squash ( A very rare South African Heirloom) in Los Angeles, California. I grew my first batch of gems 3 years ago and got 70 squashes. I actually grow them in a community garden and I have 3 other fellow gardeners growing both them gems and Boer Pampoen. It is my first year growing Souties and Boer Pampoen so I am looking forward to see how they come out.
    I look forward to seeing your recipe, I usually just boil my gems whole and then slice in half, discard the seeds and put butter, salt and pepper – Yummy!

    • Hi Brett! Thanks so much for this great info! I am glad to know about your South African squash and that they are doing well. I will update soon with pics of our gem and Boer pampoen. The Boer pampoen are getting large really quickly, and the vine footprint is quite large. And we are getting very prolific gem squash. Thanks Brett, more to follow soon!

      • Hi Bobby, I am sorry but I have no more seeds left this season, perhaps check with me next spring and if I have some, I can send you some.

    • We usually cut the gems in half and remove the seeds. Boil in lightly salted water and remove once soft and tender. Add a little butter and suger to taste. Fill with creamstyle sweetcorn and sprinkle grated cheese of your choice over it. I prefer no sugar added but the kids LOVE the little extra sweetness! This tastes absolutely amazing!!!

    • Hi Linda! I used the same checks on our boer pampoen that I normally use for pumpkins. The leaves of the plant will begin to turn dry and crispy when the boer pampoen are ripe. Also, the stems will get hard. Press the skin of the boer pampoen with your fingernail–when it makes an slight depression but does not cut into the skin, it is ready. I stored my boer pampoen for a few weeks at room temperature after harvesting, to let them fully ripen and mature. In South Africa, my understanding is that they put their boer pampoen on the roofs of their barns to let them mature.

      If any folks have tips on telling when the boer pampoen are ripe, please share them here, I would love to know hints from the old country! I grew my first boer pampoen this year, and we have plenty of seeds to plant a bigger crop next year. Thanks Linda!

      • Also very important to note that if you are going to store your Pumpkins you must harvest them with the stem on. This way the pumpkins will store for a long time.
        I have found that in an ideal situation you would harvest your Boer Pumpkins once the plants are totally dead, however most people cannot do this due to the squirrels and other wild life in the USA.

  3. If you pick the gems while they are still young and tender (soft skin), boil them whole then cut in half to serve (complete with delicious, soft seeds) with a good knob of butter, salt and pepper

  4. I have just weighed my first New Zealand grown Boer Pumkin (not quite ready yet but someone broke the stem off 😦 ) 10kg means a fair bit of pumpkin. I have also picked our first NZ Hubbard Squash (5kg)

  5. I am visiting the US in late Aug/Sept this year from Australia. We are searching for where we would be able to buy some Gem Squash while we are visiting. In Australia most of the South African online stores can send you Gem Squash. That does not seem to be the case in the US!! Does anyone where we would be able to buy some from?

    • Hello Gayle! Unfortunately, by Aug/Sept our gardens are completely done for the summer. Those months are brutally hot here, and we can’t grow squash at all during that time. We were given our gem squash seeds by a good friend years ago, and now we save enough seed each year to plant the next year.

      We love our gem squash, but there are no places I know of to order the seeds. If you check back with us on your visit, we may have some extra seeds, or possible where know where you can get some. Thank you so much! Safe travels!

      • Good morning on the Memorial Day. Do you currently have any Gem Squash seeds? I am looking for Gem Squash Seeds and Boer Pampoen Seeds. Registered on your site a year or two ago. Thank you very much. Kathy

      • Good morning! I am so sorry, but we do not currently have seeds. All of our seeds for the Boer and gem squash are planted now in the garden. We save seeds for future plantings, but unfortunately we have a very small supply and plant all the seeds we have. We got our supply of seeds this year from our customers who saved seed from the squash we delivered last year, and kindly gave the seeds back to us.

        I will forward your e-mail to a friend, and see if he has any available. Thank you so much! Happy Memorial Day to you! Justin

      • Thanks for your reply. I don’t want seeds. I want to purchase the gem squash for a dinner we are making for some US friends of ours.
        We love our gem squash too and luckily for us there are a few places that grow them here in Australia.

    • To best of my knowledge there is no place in the US where you can buy grown Gem Squash, there is a group of us growing them, but have never been able to find a store that sells grown gems

  6. Hello! I so would love to have some of the Boerpampoen seeds. We are in the UK and I am looking for these seeds. We have an alotment garden and the only thing that’s missing, is this Pampoen, my favourite. Would it be possible for you to send me a couple – I sound very cheeky, I know. I’m not sure about the protocols and all of that, but hope it’s possible to get some through. Please use the email address to contact me – which is from my WordPress profile too. Thanks!

    • Hello, you are not cheeky at all! I know these seeds are difficult to find. I am so sorry, but we do not currently have seeds. All of our Boer and gem squash are planted now in the garden. We started with just a few seeds of each, and plant all the seeds we have each summer. We save seeds for future plantings, but unfortunately we have a very small supply and plant all the seeds we have each season.

      I will forward your e-mail to a friend, and see if he has any available. Thank you so much! Happy Memorial Day to you! Justin

      • hi Justin! Thank you for your reply and I do believe you if you say you plant them all, they are precious. 🙂 Thank you for forwarding my email to your friend. Happy Memorial Day to you too!

  7. Could I please buy a few gem squash seeds from you – a South African that is dying for a skorsie. Even 4 seeds will do.

    • Hello Ilse! Unfortunately, we are completely out of seeds. We planted all that we had, and every potential new seed went out to our customers in the form of beautiful squash!

      Our friend who originally gave us some seeds is also out–they are very popular. I hope you are able to find some seeds! All the best to you! Justin

      • Hi Justin, do you ship at all, maybe I should just buy some gem squash from you once your harvest – is that a possibility? I’m in Roseville, California.

      • Hello Ilse! I am so sorry, we do not ship. Also, we have already cycled through our squash for the season. Our summers get extremely hot, and the squash for the most part is finishing during July. Until we find more seeds, we will not have more gem squash or Boer pampoen pumpkins.

        There is definitely a niche of customers who love these squash varieties! I will not be surprised if an enterprising seed company is not carrying these soon. Best of luck to you in finding seeds! Thanks! Justin

      • Thanks for letting me know – I will have to hunt some seeds down, love my gems, my favorite veggie as a child growing up in South Africa

  8. Hallo! I am also a South African living in Alabama and an avid gardener as well. Do you periodically have these (gem squash and boer pumpkin) seeds for sale? Would you be able to put me on a waiting list for next time you have seeds for sale please? Thank you.

    • Hello Christi! We planted gem squash and boer pampoen this spring. We got the seeds from Baker Creek Seed Company. We are so glad they have now have these seeds!

      The squash and pumpkins are doing very well, excellent germination rate. Please visit their site and let them know we sent you! Best of luck with your taste of South Africa! All the best to you! Justin

  9. I am trying to find seeds for gem squash & ” boer pampoen ” please is there a way to purchase some i had some Gem squash in California but had to move to Washington state… miss that wonderful taste. Please help.
    Regards
    Angela Els

    • Hello Angela! We planted gem squash and boer pampoen this spring. We got the seeds from Baker Creek Seed Company. We are so glad they have now have these seeds!

      The squash and pumpkins are doing very well, excellent germination rate. Please visit their site and let them know we sent you! Best of luck with your taste of South Africa! All the best to you! Justin

  10. Hey Justin

    Just found your blog, we are South Africans living in Virginia and desperately seeking been squash seeds. I have tried rare seeds, Baker Creek bur they don’t have any or know of a source. Would you, or some of your friends be willing to send a few to a family who are desperately yearning the gemail squash flavor.

    Thanks
    Jessica

    • Hello Jessica! We are completely out of gem and Boer pumpkin seeds! I am so sorry! We got some from Baker Creek seeds earlier in the year, I am sorry they are out. There is such a demand for these seeds, surely the supply will catch up. I encourage you to let Baker Creek Seeds know, and we will do the same, as they are I think the best possible source in US.

      I don’t know when or where we will get the seeds again. I wish you good luck in finding seeds, let me know if you find a source, thank you!

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