How did Kabocha Squash get to Cambodia?

While recently googling the history of Kabocha Squash (because what else are you going to do on a Monday night? :slight_smile: ) I came across this fact:

In classic Wikipedia style this misses the most important details. How did a South American squash get to Cambodia half a century after the European discovery of America? And become so well established by then that it was, in Portuguese eyes, synonymous with Cambodia? Did people in South America stop eating it, as it seems to be entirely associated with Asian cultures in modern cuisine, or is it just that westerners know it that way? (Alternatively, given the era it reach Japan, were the original Mesoamerican cultures that ate it simply wiped out, so only the Asian cuisine remains?)

Anyone have any ideas? Google is not much help as the number of recipe sites overwhelm most history-related hits

You might want to read websites and books (and watch videos) about the Columbian Exchange. The amount of transferring of animals and plants (and technology and ideas and, of course, people) between the Old World and the Americas just in the first century or so after 1492 was astonishing. Here’s the Wikipedia entry, a website, and a couple of videos:

You can find a lot more by Googling on "Columbian Exchange". The amount and rate of exchange of various things were probably much larger than you think. It's only in the past couple of decades that this process has reached general discussion, so most of us didn't learn about this in school.

The Japanese Wikipedia doesn’t add any information and I don’t know Cambodian.

This page on the family of fruits says that there’s a French devotional book that has pictures of gourds that would have been drawn around 1505:

So that’s 13 years from Columbus’ first cruise. I’d say that it’s likely that he brought the seeds back and had the natives that he brought back show how to grow them.

Ultimately, you should consider that we’re talking about a 50 year period. That’s two full generations. If a few cultivars landed in Cambodia in 1510, that’s thirty years for the fruit to adapt to the climate. If it creates a new fruit every year, then that’s thirty generations of fruit. That’s reasonable for a new cultivar to come into being, particularly given the difference in climate that the fruit was being exposed to compared to its origin.

Also, consider the availability of seeds.

One person in one town gets a squash, eats the flesh and saves the seeds (say, 100 of them)
If only half of those seeds are planted the next season, that’s 50 plants, each of which may produce 20 fruit, each of which contains 100 seeds

  • After 1 year, there are 100,000 seeds available.
  • after the first couple of years, the spread is limited by the speed of human travel and trade between communities (and it happens that the Kabocha squash is ideal for trading due to its physical durability and long storage life

A little Googling suggests that Wikipedia errs in suggesting that “kabocha” was originally restricted to just that kind of squash. The Portuguese brought squash from South America to Cambodia, and then from Cambodia to Japan, but the kind they brought may not have been the breed that is today known as kabocha (or may have included other kinds). “Kabocha” became the generic word for squash in Japan because it had come from Cambodia. Today it is applied to just that kind of squash, which may have been a cultivar later developed in Japan. (That is, that specific cultivar may never have existed in South America, but was developed after squash reached Japan).

Hot (capsicum) peppers spread so rapidly that early European visitors to India thought they were native plants.

Cite: Crosby’s “The Columbian Exchange,” now rather long in the tooth but a seminal work. Don’t have it handy just now but I’m fairly sure of it.

During my learning of Japanese, my material told me that “かぼちゃ”(kabocha) meant “pumpkin.” Now I realize that it actually means any kind of gourd, squash, pumpkin, etc. So the English meaning of “kabocha” is much more specific than the Japanese.