Gourds

September 09, 2021

One of the sure ways I find to gage the season is by the displays found in the markets.  The easiest transition can be found on the candy aisle.  While there are always the old staples (candy bars, gums, and notions), even these take on a festive flare and wrappers to mark the different holidays (M&M’s feature red and green Christmas packs).  The candy corn and pumpkins are hard to find until the fall, and peeps seem to only thrive around Easter.  What is more subtle are the display changes in the produce department.  When I entered the store last week, I noticed the watermelons that had dominated the entrance all summer had been replaced by gourds.  These gourds are inedible, but they do make nice holiday displays.  Even though we are still in the mid 90’sF, this is a sure sign that fall is on the way. 

When I looked online, I found that Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants.  Botanically speaking, there’s really no difference between gourds, squash, and pumpkins.  They all belong to the family Cucurbitaceae and are all frost tender.  Gourds are the common name for hard-shelled, non-edible cucurbit fruits suitable for decorative ornaments or utensils.  They were the early water bottles of the Egyptians, and have been used for utensils, storage containers, and dippers for centuries.  While some of the squashes and pumpkins are ornamental, they are soft-shelled and will not last longer than a single season.  The tough gourds have outlasted the civilization and appear in the archaeological record.

Gourds come in a variety of shapes and colors, but there are three general types of gourds.  The ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) are the colorful gourds used for decorations. They are soft-shelled gourds that are closely related to squash.  These are native to America and are usually not good for more than one season.  The bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are hard shell gourds whose name means “drinking vessel.”  Hard-shelled gourds will last for several years and have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers and utensils, although the immature gourds are edible.  The Sponge gourds (Luffa aegyptiaca or Luffa cylindrical) is the well-known bath sponge.  While many believe Luffas are sea sponges, they are gourds related to cucumbers.  After they mature and dry the shell is scraped off and the scratchy inner fiber becomes your bathtub scrubber.

Thoughts:  After defining the three types of gourds, the site went on to describe a fourth.  The Snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumerina var. anguina) are a member of the pumpkin family (Cucurbitaceae) but has seeds like the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus).  Their name is derived from the long and wriggly shape which resembles a snake.  They can be eaten when young, but they are not very flavorful.  Once fully mature, snake gourds are tough enough to be turned into didgeridoos (an Australian wind instrument like a straight trumpet).  I find is fascinating that these varieties of gourds have been grown for over 5000 years and are more aesthetic than edible.  Humans obviously tried to eat them, in various stages of growth, but then continued to use the fruits for other purposes.  As the saying goes, “Humans do not live by bread alone.”  Apparently, we also need the arts and etiquette.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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