Variety Focus: Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash
What an impressive little heirloom. These girls totally got the shaft in my garden this year, but they never seemed to notice. They were planted in the partial shade of a mugo pine, near the grassy perimeter of the garden, and more densely than I would have liked. Still they performed great! They got an average of 6 hours of full sun each day. I planted four 18” diameter mounds, thinning to 2-3 plants per mound. The mounds were 3' apart. The vines were vigorous and all stayed healthy, no squash bugs or the powdery mildew so common to squash vines at the end of the season. In fact, neighboring squash plants were moderately infected with verticilium wilt and 'Thelma Sanders' remained unaffected.
In these conditions, each plant yielded an average of six, 2-3 lbs. mature squash by the time I harvested them in before the first freeze in mid October. Direct sown May 25, they were in the ground about 110 days and based on when my squash matured you could push that as short as 90 days and get the same yields. The plants continued producing new fruits later in the season which did not mature. I'd just pull these later blossoms off the plant next year to keep the focus on maturing earlier fruits. Squash are heavy nitrogen feeders. I amended the mounds I planted with compost and cottonseed meal at the time of planting. Once established, I fed each plant fish emulsion every other week. (See Organic Fertigating)
These little hearts are deeply ribbed and look great next to our lobed pumpkin varieties as a centerpiece. The skin is a beautiful light beige and the flesh is the same. The seeds are easily removed as the seed cavity is tidily defined. Halved, they make great boats for stuffing or lots of butter. The flavor is very “squashy”, its savory, not sweet, and earthy. The texture is moderately smooth, not stringy. They are excellent keepers so far! While acorn squash are typically touted as only keeping 3-4 months, my remaining Thelmas are going strong now at just over four months with no obvious sign of deterioration. The four mounds I planted were enough to feed us generously for as long as they last.
'Thelma Sanders' also goes by the variety name 'Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash.' Read the Thelma squash life story on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. What a legacy, Thelma!
Cooking with Thelma
To bake, I find the texture best when its baked for one hour at 350 F. I place halved squashes in an oven safe container with a lid, with a scant ½ inch of water at the bottom. Serve with butter, salt and pepper, and a dusting of turmeric powder to enhance the savory flavor!