Musquee de Provence is the most common winter squash you’ll find at farmers markets all over southern France. But how did this Cucurbita moschata — more adapted to warmer climates — find its way into the culinary fabric of France?
When Spanish explorers returned with squash seeds they’d collected from Native American growers in the New World, they were thought to be just another type of gourd, which were already common in Western Europe.
In 1786, French botanist Antoine Duchesne proved that the New World squash did not belong in the Lagenaria family with gourds. In 1860, another French botanist, Charles Naudin, demonstrated that they were not one, but three different species: Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima. Later a fourth domesticated species was identified — Cucurbita ficifolia (now called argyrosperma).
Musquée de Provence likely originated in the northern part of South America. Seeds dating to pre-Columbian times have been found at several sites in Peru and Central America.
In Europe, Musquee de Provence was long confined to southern Italy and Spain, where the climate is warmer. In Italy, the butternut type squash — known as the Napoli type — became the favorite. The Napoli eventually made its way to southeastern France, where the variety Longue de Nice became famous. The flat, round ribbed type like Musquee de Provence probably made its way from Spain to the southern French region of Languedoc, bordering Provence.
In his 1894 book “Les Cultures sur le Littoral de la Méditerranée,” Dr. Emile Sauvaigo wrote that the variety was being widely grown in southeastern France. But how could such an obscure variety suddenly become so famous and widespread?
It’s possible that it was known under a different name. In 1883, Vilmorin-Andrieux’s “Les Plantes Potagères” mentioned two similar varieties — the Courge de Chypre, or Cyprus Squash, and the Courge à la Violette. Both were popular in southern France at the time.
The squash was mostly grown around the city of Aix en Provence. In his novel “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo immortalized a revolutionary group that named itself for the squash — or in French, the “cougourde” — of Aix en Provence.
The variety quickly made its way to the U.S., where it was listed as early as 1895 by Vaughan’s Seed Store in Chicago.
Musquée de Provence is an excellent keeper — up to six months — and as with most moschata varieties, its flowers are edible and have a sweeter, less bitter flavor than other species of squash.
Find Musquee de Provence seeds here.