Archive

Gourds for eating, not just crafting into birdhouses | TribLIVE.com
News

Gourds for eating, not just crafting into birdhouses

gtrlivgarden043017
Jessica Walliser
Calabash gourd

The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) is host to a huge diversity of plants, including pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini and gourds. While some of these plants are popular edibles here in North America, gourds are primarily grown as ornamentals. But, while most of us grow gourds for their unique looks, many other cultures use them as delicious ingredients in a diverse array of dishes.

Edible gourds are those within the species Lagenaria siceraria. There are dozens of different varieties of this species, many of which make wonderful additions to the garden and kitchen.

For example, the elongated gourds we call “bottle gourds” and the lopsided dumbbell-shaped gourds known as “calabash gourds” often used as autumn decorations are edible when they’re harvested young.

At maturity, the skin of these gourds grows too tough to eat, and instead we use them as decoration or to create crafts, such as bowls, birdhouses, and water dippers. But, when picked young, their flesh is incredibly tasty, and if you’ve never tried them, they’re both easy to grow and delicious.

The vines can grow up to 20- feet long, so most edible gourds take up a lot of space in the garden. Grow them up a trellis whenever possible.

Unlike most other members of the cucurbit family, gourds in this particular species produce white flowers that open at night, rather than the yellow day-blooming flowers typical of other squashes. The flowers of edible gourds open at dusk and close by mid-day, and are primarily pollinated by nocturnal moths.

These plants love hot and humid weather, a sunny location, and well-drained, compost-rich soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Seeds can be sown directly into the garden when soil temperatures are close to 70 degrees F and the danger of frost has passed, usually in late May here in Pennsylvania.

As the vines mature, harvest the young fruits when they’re a just a few inches long and the skin is still soft and thin. To increase fruit production, the vines can be “tipped” by cutting off the terminal growing point when they reach about 10 feet in length. This practice forces the production of more fruit-bearing side shoots.

Here are a handful of delicious edible gourd varieties to try in this year’s garden.

“Tambuli” is a cylindrical-shaped gourd that is ready to harvest in about 60 days. The skin is bright green and the fruit is flattened on both ends. Immature gourds can be used in stews and stir-fries.

“Thai Bottle” gourds are most often used to make birdhouses when the mature fruits are dried. But, young gourds are delicious steamed or sliced and stir-fried. Grilling is another favorite preparation technique, as is grating the fruit and making it into fritters. Harvest the bottle-shaped gourds when they’re 5-inches long for the best flavor and texture.

“Italian Edible” or “Serpente di Sicilia” is a long, slender, light-green gourd that makes beautiful round slices perfect for grilling, stacking in vegetable lasagna, or breading for use in gourd parmesan. Though mature fruits reach 2 to 3 feet in length and 3 inches in girth, gourds intended for use in the kitchen should be harvested when they reach about 6 inches.

Seeds of these edible gourd varieties are available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) and Victory Seeds (victoryseeds.com).

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.