Pathaw lieh is one of the various varieties of pumpkin that is mostly found in the West Khasi Hills and other part of the region of Meghalaya in northeastern India. The name pathaw lieh translates to “white pumpkin.” Unlike most pumpkins, this variety is tall instead of round in shape and is white in color when ripe. The seeds of pathaw lieh are solid like rice grains and have the same shape as the fruit. The pumpkin is planted in the months of March and April and in ripen from August to November, with later harvested fruits being more flavorful due to a lower water content. Lower yielding plants produce 10-15 pumpkins per plant, but higher yielding plants can produce up to 30-50 pumpkins per plant. Some of the known recipes associated with pathaw lieh include ja pathaw (“pumpkin rice”), made of the local rice and local pumpkin cooked in a bamboo tube either over the fire or covered by hot ashes until it is cooked.
Communities have recounted memories of their grandparents who used to prepare this dish while in their shifting cultivation (jhum) fields. They used to mix more pumpkin than rice in this dish, because rice was in scarcity in the past and pumpkin was considered a source of food security. Pumpkin diversity is also an indicator of food security, as communities store them over the winter on top of their roofs. Pathaw lieh is cultivated in a sloping area of cultivation, but grows more productively when cultivated in areas were the bamboo grows. The communities of the Lyngam area in the West Khasi Hills, including villages like Pyndengmawlieh, Thawkhong and Porksai, are producing the pathaw lieh and still eat ja pathaw as their main meal when working in the fields.
Although white pumpkin has long been a source of food security for local communities, unfortunately, over the course of time it has lost value. Locally produced foods are being replaced by foods supplied through the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is a government-subsidized system, which includes rice in abundant quantities, but not as healthy or flavorful as locally grown varieties that pair better with the pumpkin when making ja pathaw, and so consumption of this local pumpkin variety is in decline.