A co-worker brought me some tomatoes last week. There were a couple of hefty Heirlooms and some classic reds. The much appreciated gifts were from her father, an experienced gardener who specializes in picture-perfect, tasty tomatoes he cultivates from seeds in his greenhouse and nurtures to vine-ripeness in his garden.
I’m told that “Dad” reads my columns faithfully and wanted to share some of his beauties with me after reading my recent column about Heirloom tomatoes. My co-worker also told me her dad was curious if, in fact, I was a genuine gardener or just “blowing smoke” writing about it.
“Dad was just wondering if you were real,”she said.
Last weekend, while in Arcata for its farmers market, I spotted a magazine in the window of the bookstore on the square. I bought a copy of “Heirloom Gardener” without even flipping through the pages. I had no doubt after seeing the cover it would be a good read. In addition to healthy recipes, a how-to on log-grown shiitake mushrooms and a story about a restaurant owner in Sonoma who raises the vegetables and fruits she serves, I read a fascinating story titled “The Great Moschata.”
What’s Moschata, you ask? It’s what’s in Libby’s canned pumpkin — the mainstay in traditional Thanksgiving pies. It turns out that this yellowish-tan oblong squash is not a pumpkin at all, but more like a butternut squash.
The exact origin of this squash is uncertain, but the seeds may have originated in South America 5,000 or 6,000 years ago according to Lawrence Davis-Holland in his article in Heirloom Gardener. Archaeological remains in northwestern Mexico show cultivation occurred there around 3000 B.C., and spread into the southwestern United States, he reports.
A family named Dickinson began the commercial production of Moschatas in the mid-1850s and opened their first canning factory in Illinois in 1895. Just before the Great Depression, the Dickinsons sold to Libby.
“In 1971... Libby ... was sold to Nestle, which was then spun off to Seneca Foods in the 1980s with the exception of the canned pumpkin business. Dickinson pumpkin became the primary, if not exclusive, pumpkin grown for canning and by the 1920s it appears to have been the only cultivated variety for Libby’s,” the article states. Libby’s grows about 85 percent of the country’s supply of canned squash.
If the pumpkin in a can of pumpkin isn’t really pumpkin, I guess it’s safe to speculate that not everything is as it appears. And although I hold no grudge against Libby’s (or actually Nestle) for misleading us a little by the artwork on its can, I do find it interesting that we’re actually eating an heirloom variety of squash every time we use their product.
Truth in labeling — telling the consumer exactly what is in a can or box or package of food — is, in my opinion, a no-brainer. There’s a measure on California’s November ballot, Proposition 37, that asks voters if they agree that food producers should fully disclose ingredients that are “made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specific ways.” This translates into genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
I am going to vote yes.
It’s noteworthy that Nestle, the company that owns the Libby’s label as well as hundreds of other brands including Stouffer’s, Dreyer’s and Cheerios, has spent over $1 million to defeat Measure 37, according to KCET’s website (KCET is the nation’s largest independent public television station).
Regarding “Dad’s” concern about whether what I write about is “real” or not, I can tell you this about me: what you see is what you get. I don’t make things up.
And that’s how I like my food.