What’s for lunch? Squash!

pumpkinsHave you ever been to a pumpkin patch? Do you visit one in October to grab a jack-o-lantern pumpkin? Maybe someone in your family has a great recipe for homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? Visiting a pumpkin patch has become a special trip for us now. But in the past, Iowa farmers grew lots and lots of pumpkins in their fields. Iowa’s first farmers, the Ioway Indians, grew pumpkins as one of their three most important crops. Pumpkins and squash were easy to grow and they could grow to large sizes.

Lots of kids today have never tried pumpkins as a food. Many people have never tried squash at all! Pumpkins can be very tasty when cooked just right – even the seeds can make a great snack! In the 1700s, Ioway kids would have pumpkin or squash on their plates (actually, in their bowls) almost every day. And the kids would have to help grow the pumpkins their family ate.Ioway Garden

If you could see the Ioway’s fields, you would see tall stalks of corn with skinny vines wrapped around them. These vines had beans growing on them, climbing up the corn to get some sunlight. All around the ground, colorful pumpkins and squash grew, hiding under their big fat leaves.

Moms were the farmers of the family. But Mom had lots of help from aunts, grandmothers, and especially kids! After the older women had prepared and planted the gardens in the spring, the kids would help to take care of the plants and make sure that the crops were safe from weeds and animals. Of all the crops, pumpkins and squash really came in handy for the kids, because they helped keep animals away and kept the soil from drying out.  plants

Since pumpkins have big leaves, they kept the soil shady. This kept the soil from drying out as quickly. That meant the kids didn’t have to water the plants all the time! Squash vines are also very prickly. Have you felt one of the vines at a pumpkin patch? This helps to keep out small animals that might want to eat the corn and the beans. Can you imagine working very hard every day to have good food to eat, and then waking up to find out animals have snuck in to eat your crops? The pumpkins and squash help to make sure that doesn’t happen.pumpkins

When summer was over, Ioway kids would see that their squash had grown up into all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some of the squash would be cooked and eaten soon after it came off the vine. But most of it would be saved for eating in the wintertime, when no crops could grow.


The Ioway cut their squash and pumpkins into rings. The rings were hung on big drying racks. The sun and the winds dried the rings out, taking away moisture. The rings became dry, thin, and crispy. Families stored them in a cache pit – like an underground pantry – near the family’s home. When the family wanted to eat their dried squash during the winter, they would put it into soups and stews! cooking

Mom would put the dried squash rings into some boiling water, along with dried corn, dried beans, and whatever meat had been gathered by the father. The Ioway family might have soup and stew all winter, until they could start growing some fresh food again. If you wanted to live like the Ioway, you’d need to like soups and stews! Those were the main dishes that the Ioway had to eat in the wintertime. And hopefully, you’d like pumpkins and squash too, because those were some of the main ingredients in their stews.


The Ioway had to grow all of their own food for hundreds of years. Today some families still grow food in gardens, but we also have grocery stores to help out. And we can buy pumpkin and squash whole or in cans. Next time you go to the store, see if you can find any squash – it is still very tasty after all these years!


Parents and caregivers: The Ioway ate pumpkin and squash in stews, but there are many ways to introduce squash to kids. You can find kid-friendly recipes for squash here!


Pumpkin Season!

pumpkins and squash

Pumpkins are everywhere in November! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cake! Many people just have to have a pumpkin pie with their Thanksgiving meal. Here at the museum, our historic sites grow lots of pumpkin. Did you know that pumpkins have been around a very long time? The pumpkin was first grown thousands of years ago in Mexico. All the way back to 7,000 B.C! That’s a really long time ago! The historic guides at our museum like to grow pumpkins and cook the types of pumpkin recipes people in Iowa would have had in the past. That doesn’t mean they make pumpkin spice coffee and cake, though! The sweet pumpkin muffins and cake we love aren’t very old at all. They only show up in recipe books starting in the 1940s. That’s only about 75 years ago! And that pumpkin coffee that everyone loves was first made in 2003. That’s only 11 years ago! So if people in the long ago past weren’t making cake and cookies out of it, how did they eat their pumpkins?

pumpkinspumpkin on the vine

At the 1700 era Ioway farm, museum guides grow many kinds of pumpkins. The Ioway word for squash is wádwan. Pumpkins belong to the squash family. You might think of big, round, orange pumpkins, but pumpkins come in lots of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be green and yellow, white, red, or even striped! We are not sure exactly which kinds the Ioway grew, but we know they planted their pumpkins in the garden next to the corn and beans. The Ioway called pumpkin one of the three sisters of life. Pumpkins grow on vines with prickly stems and big leaves. The vines help keep weeds from growing around the base of the corn and bean plants.

The Ioway people ate a lot of pumpkin and squash all year long. In the summer, the Ioway would pick the squash flowers off of the vines and eat them in stews. The Ioway also ate fresh pumpkin in late summer. They roasted the pumpkins whole in their cooking fires. In fall, the Ioway women would pick the pumpkins, cut them into slices and hang the slices on wooden stands to dry out in the sun. The dried rings of pumpkin wouldn’t spoil during the winter. The Ioway could eat them like jerky, or cut them up in soup and stew all winter long. Pumpkin, corn, and bean stew would be a winter treat!

pumpkin dryingpumpkin stew

Before explorers from Europe crossed the oceans, pumpkins did not grow in Europe. Native American peoples taught European settlers how to first cook pumpkins. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts wouldn’t have eaten pumpkin pie at those first Thanksgiving dinners! They would have stewed or baked their pumpkins like their Wampanoag native neighbors had taught them. The Pilgrims did find ways to use pumpkins in some of their own favorite recipes. They learned to bake a creamy pudding made of milk, eggs, and spices inside the pumpkin. They also added corn meal to stewed pumpkin and made bread out of it. Later, European settlers did start to make sweet puddings and pies with pumpkin.

pumpkins 1850At Living History Farms, the 1850 era Pioneer Farm grows lots of pumpkins in the field with the corn. Many of Iowa’s pioneers grew pumpkins and squash to eat during the winter. They could have cut some of the pumpkins into rings and dried them out for eating in stew, just like the Ioway.

pumpkin slicespumpkin rings

They also stored whole pumpkins in the cabin attic or in a root cellar for winter.  pumpkins 1850

These pumpkins could be stewed or roasted and then mashed. Pioneers could add spices to the pumpkin—and sugar and cream if they had some!

pumpkin baking 1850A pioneer woman in a log cabin could eat this mashed pumpkin like a pudding or she could pour it into a pie crust and bake it in a bake kettle in the fireplace.

Farm families in Iowa also made a sweet spread for bread using pumpkins. At our 1900 era Farm, museum guides grow pumpkins and make pumpkin spreads on the wood burning stove. The cooks stew or roast the pumpkin until is very soft.  Then they mash the pumpkin and mix it with sugar and spices. The cook puts the mix in a pot over the wood burning stove and lets the pumpkin heat for a long time. The mixture gets very thick and very sweet. This is called pumpkin butter! This very sweet spread would have been stored in crocks or glass jars in the year 1900 for use all winter long.

jars 1900

You can still make pumpkin butter at home today. With an adult, mix 8 cups of mashed pumpkin with 4 cups of sugar in a bowl. Add 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, and 1 teaspoon of ground cloves. Now you need to cook the mixture. You can pour it into a heavy pot and let it simmer on top of a stove until it gets very, very thick. Cook it on low and stir it every so often. Or you can put the mixture into a heavy pan in the oven and let it bake it for several hours at 300 degrees. In 2014, we can even put the mixture in a slow cooker and let it heat four or five hours until it gets very thick. After you have made your pumpkin butter, you can put it into the refrigerator for several weeks or you can freeze it to eat later this winter!

pumpkin butter

Pumpkin Butter

8 c. mashed pumpkin      4 c. sugar

1 T. cinnamon                 1 t. ginger

1 t. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients; simmer over low heat until very thick. Stir occasionally.

A Farmer’s Best Friend: The Scarecrow!

crowsquirrel eating corn

Farmers grow plants that people and animals can eat. At Living History Farms, the farmers plant corn and oats for the cows, horses, and pigs to eat. At the 1850 Pioneer Farm, farmers grow wheat. This makes flour for people to eat. Our gardens have carrots and beans and tomatoes and sweet corn and lots of other tasty vegetables in them all summer long. We love to eat this food when it is ready to pick. But there are also other birds, bugs, and animals that love our fields and our gardens. Crows, deer, squash bugs, ground squirrels, and corn worms are all creatures that we did not invite to have dinner in our fields and gardens!

Pesky critters are not a new problem for farmers. For thousands of years, farmers all over the world have tried to keep pests like crows from eating the seeds and plants in their fields. In some places, people had the job of walking through the fields making noise and scaring away animals. They were called bird scarers. A long time ago, during the Middle Ages, boys in England would walk through wheat fields with wooden clappers or noise makers to scare away the birds.  watcher standIn Iowa in the 1700s, the Ioway native people built wooden stands next to their gardens. Children would sit on the stands during the day. They would bang on pots, make noise, and throw rocks at animals and birds that tried to eat the garden’s corn, beans and squash.

What happens if there aren’t enough kids to watch the fields all day? In some countries, farmers had to think of other ways to protect their plants. Some farmers built dummies or dolls to put in the field instead! Today, we think of scarecrows shaped like people and stuffed with straw. We use them for decoration at Halloween and Thanksgiving. But, scarecrows can be made of wood or clay too! Long ago in ancient Greece, farmers carved scary wooden statues to put in their fields. The Romans made clay statues. In Japan, scarecrows were made of rags with pointed hats. In the early 1800s, Pennsylvania German farmers built straw-stuffed scarecrows called bootzamon, or bogeymen.scarecrow

Do farmers still use scarecrows? There are still lots of deer and crows in Iowa to scare away! Now, most farmers have really big fields. A scarecrow will not keep all the deer away. Today, farmers use smelly or bad tasting sprays and fences to keep pests away from fields. Even in the garden, people today use other kinds of things to keep birds and deer away. There are smelly garden sprays that animals don’t like. But we do still use noise to keep away birds. Some people hang wind chimes and spinners in their garden to frighten away animals. People tie pie pans or shiny CDs to string and hang them on a pole. The shiny light and clatter will sometimes keep away the birds.

bucket head scarecrow
So what about the straw scarecrow? Well, some people do have these in their small garden. We also love to decorate with scarecrows at Halloween! You can build your own scarecrow at home. The first step is to decide on the clothing for your scarecrow. Old jeans and an old long sleeve shirt work really well. Make sure Mom and Dad say its ok to use the clothes you decide on! Take a string, rubber band, or heavy tape and tie the ends of the pant legs, bottom of the shirt and shirt sleeves closed. Now you can stuff the clothing! Some people still use straw to stuff their scarecrows. Dried leaves from your fall trees also make good stuffing. Plastic shopping bags also make good stuffing and can be recycled after the fall is over! Stuff the clothing full! Then tie or tape the pants and shirt together. scarecrows You can sit your scarecrow on your porch in a chair. Or an adult can help you hang the stuffed clothing on a pole for the yard. Every scarecrow needs a head. Some people use a pumpkin with a carved or painted face. Some people use a cloth sack with a face drawn onto it. Or how about an upside down broom head? Make sure to give your scarecrow a hat!scarecrows

This week you can see many silly and funny scarecrows at Living History Farms during our Family Halloween celebration!

Caregivers: Living History Farms is open for trick or treating, story telling, horse and wagon rides and other fun during our Family Halloween event, which continues on October 30 and 31 from 5:30pm to 8:30 pm. Dress your little ones for the open air. Costumes are great, but a warm hoodie and sturdy shoes are great too! www.LHF.org/Halloween


Seed Starting

It’s going to be 60 degrees and sunny today! Time to really start thinking about spring and take those garden plans a step further!


When we think of gardening, we usually think of lots of big plants heavy with fruits and vegetables outdoors in the summer heat. Those plants don’t start out that big, though.

seed packets

Did you know that most plants in the garden start out as tiny seeds that have to be planted each year? Maybe you’ve planted seeds in a garden before and gotten to watch them grow into big, healthy plants.

Not all seeds can be planted straight into the garden, though. Some plants grow too slowly to be planted right outside. If we waited until it was warm outside to plant them, they wouldn’t have time to grow big enough to have vegetables for us to eat before frost comes in the fall.

Other plants are very sensitive to cold weather. We can’t let them be outdoors until the weather is warm enough. Farmers and gardeners can give these kinds of plants a head start. They plant these seeds in small pots indoors. Seeds like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cabbage, cucumbers, melons, and squash can all be planted or “started” indoors.

Starting seeds indoors is easy! You only need a few things and a little time and patience to give your garden veggies the head start they need! We’ll give you instructions on how to start your own seeds indoors. Make sure you get an adult’s permission and help before you start!

What you need to get started:

  • seeds such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, or lettuces
  • small containers to plant into; paper cups and paper egg cartons work well!
  • seed starting soil mix
  • water

First, take your containers and fill them about 3/4 of the way full with dirt. Using special seed starting mix will help your seeds get the best possible start, but regular potting soil will work, too.

Next, put 2-3 seeds in the middle of each container. You’ll thin these later so only one plant will be in each pot.

Sprinkle a little more dirt on top of the seeds so they’re just lightly covered with about 1/8″ soil.

Gently water the containers. Be careful not to use too much water – the seeds can wash away if they get flooded!

egg cartonsPlace the containers in a bright south-facing window that gets lots of sunlight.

Be sure to label what kind of plant is growing in each container. You could get creative and make fancy labels for your plants.

Make sure you keep them moist, but not too wet. In just a few days you should see baby tomato plants starting to poke up through the soil.

Eventually, you’ll want to transplant the seedlings into a larger container outside or out into your garden when it is warm enough. Check your seed packet for instructions.

If you don’t have small containers to plant your seeds into, you can make them out of newspaper like this!

Get those plants growing! If you start now, by September, your garden might look like this!

Dreaming of Seeds!

winter at Living History Farms

There is still snow in Iowa. The ground is frozen. But spring will be here soon and it is time to plan the fields and gardens at the museum!

field at Living History Farms

Lots of catalogs are coming in the mail with pictures of vegetables and flowers. These catalogs sell seeds and plants.

Our museum workers can also use their computers to search for seeds and plants. It is fun to look at the photos and think of all the wonderful things we can grow when it gets warmer.

seed catalog

What are your favorite vegetables and flowers? Do you grow any of these in a garden at your house?

How did the people who lived in Iowa a long time ago choose seeds for their gardens and fields? How about a pioneer farmer living in a log house in 1850? Here is one of our farmers working in the 1850 pioneer farm garden. Where would the seeds come from?

1850 Pioneer Farm garden

Iowa’s pioneers often brought seeds with them when they moved here. They could save some of the seeds from their first crops in Iowa to plant new crops the next year. If they lived close enough to a small town, the pioneer might also buy seeds at a General Store.

General Store

Even in 1850, a farmer could order seeds in the mail! The seed company would send the seeds to the closest post office. The farmer had to travel to the town’s post office to get his package. Iowa farmers continued to buy seeds in small towns and through the mail. Railroads made getting the seeds to Iowa easier. Flowers and plants for gardens got fancier and came from farther and farther away. Flynn summer kitchen garden

Our museum wants to make sure our farms plant the kinds of vegetables and flowers people did a long time ago. We use the lists in old seed catalogs and farm diaries to know what to plant.Landreth's Seed Catalog

The Landreth Seed Company is one of the oldest in America. You can learn more about their company here. Seed catalogs today are filled with color photographs of plants and flowers. A long time ago, the catalogs might not have any pictures, just words talking about the plant. Look at this very old catalog.  It doesn’t have any pictures at all! By the 1890s, some catalogs had drawings of the plant, sometimes in color and sometimes not. Like this one and this one. These catalogs were saved by National Agricultural Library at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Even without pictures, farmers in the past got excited about planning their gardens in February and March. It made that last bit of winter go faster! We still get excited at this time of year. It is fun to dream about warm spring weather and planting seeds!

Pioneer Farm garden

If you are getting tired of winter, plan an imaginary garden with us! Take a piece of paper and crayons and draw a big circle or square. It can be as big or small as you want it to be! What kinds of vegetables do you like? How many would you plant?


Draw them in your circle or square. Maybe your garden has flowers instead . . . what colors would they be?  Tangen Flower Garden

At Living History Farms, we save some of our seeds from year to year. We also buy our seeds from companies that grow very old kinds of vegetables. If you would like to browse a seed catalog like we do, check out this link. It might help you dream up new things for your imaginary garden plan!

Do you still need some ideas? Here is a blank plan of the garden at the 1850 Pioneer farm. Each rectangle and circle is a planting bed in the garden.


And here is a list of some of the things we plant there! Sometimes the types of vegetables have really funny names! Can you draw the plants on a garden map?

Scarlet Runner Beans
Red Core Carrot
Cayenne Hot Peppers
Bird Peppers
White Icicle Radish
Green Oakleaf Lettuce
Large Red Tomatoes
Dwarf Gray Sugar Peas
White Vienna Kohlrabi
Riesentraub Tomatoes
Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage
Flat Dutch Cabbage
Soldier Dry Beans
Lazy Wife Beans
Bull Nose Peppers
Golden Beets
Green Nutmeg Melon
Missouri Gold Muskmelon
Silver Rose Garlic
Georgia Rattlesnake Watermelon
White Patty Pan Squash
Russian Cucumber
Rutabaga Red Onions
Early Blood Turnips
Mangle wurzel Beets