A brief history of gourds

Gourd – a fleshy, typically large fruit with a hard skin, some varieties of which are edible

Pumpkin house Texas USA
Pumpkin house Texas USA

Gourds are fascinating – the perfect eco-friendly plant. No waste and with a multitude of uses; food for animals and humans, water bottles and boats, masks and musical instruments.

The king of all the gourds, is pumpkin, famous in the western world for Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. Pork Belly loves a great pumpkin pie but with my allergies it’s a no-no, full of condensed milk and sweet stickiness.

But then he created a dairy-free version just for me. Spicy, just-sweet-enough with an over-the-top meringue lid.

Gourds – the earliest cultivated plant

In these days of fighting plastic waste why the heck aren’t we all drinking and eating out of gourds? They’re perfectly portable, highly adaptable and usually delicious.

Gourds are probably the earliest plant cultivated by humans doing duty for generations as water vessels, kitchen and farming tools, flotation aids, jewellery and early home decor.

Man drinking from a bottle gourd
Man drinking from a bottle gourd © Fidelio García/CCO

In Haiti in the 1800s they were so valued they were used as currency for a while.

It’s likely gourds originated in southern Africa before spreading throughout the rest of the world, sometimes carried by people, other times bouncing along the ocean wave by themselves until they found new lands to conquer.

Gourds turned into bird nests
Gourds turned into bird nests © megankhines/CCO

Gourds come in all shapes and sizes; cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and melons are all gourds and there’s one for every occasion..

Other less familiar ones include *takes deep breath* the luffa gourd, wax gourd, malabar gourd, turban squash, snake gourd, bottle gourd, tree gourd (sometimes known as the calabash) teasel gourd, hedgehog gourd, buffalo gourd and coyote gourd.

Snake gourd
Snake gourd © Wolfgang Eckert/Pixabay

The snake gourd is one of the weirdest. Long, slim and wriggly, hence their name, they can grow to more than a metre in length. It’s eaten as a vegetable when young and has a tomato-like pulpy flesh. But leave it to mature and the skin will get hard enough to be hollowed out and snake gourds make great didgeridoos.

West Africa household gourd bowls
West Africa household gourd bowls © T.K. Naliaka/CCO

Gourds today

These amazing fruits are still in use around the world.

On the Caribbean island of Dominica, Carib Indians carve elaborate designs into the fruits or etch depictions of birds and animals onto their hard skins.

People get very creative with gourds in their own backyards, making birdhouses, miniature fairy homes and garden displays.

Carved gourd globe
Carved gourd globe © Ron Cogswell

Hollowed out gourds of all shapes and sizes are used for musical instruments like banjos and kalimbas, shakers, drums, maracas, pipes and flutes.

Musician playing Cucurbit Flute
Musician playing the Cucurbit Flute © MaxPixel

The luffa (or loofah) gourd when dried is perfect for bathtime scrubbing and makes a nibble-friendly treat for small pets.

Luffa acutangula, Chinese vegetable in a market in Haikou City, China
Luffa acutangula © Anna Frodesiak/CCO

Pumpkin – King of Gourds

And why wouldn’t it be? Its flesh is 90% water so low in calories but packed with more potassium than a banana.

The big ones that are such fun to carve aren’t particularly tasty but in these days of no-food-waste you can always dry the seeds for birds and pop the pulp out for any passing squirrel.

Carved pumpkin
Carved pumpkin © rawpixel/Pexels

If you want to make pumpkin pie you need to choose a smaller, sweeter fleshed gourd or as in our recipe, cheat with a tin – less than 200 calories so hey you can afford to go a bit wild with the sugar.

Not suggesting you try it at home but the largest ever pumpkin pie baked in Ohio in 2010 weighed in at 3,699 pounds.

Pork Belly eat your heart out!

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