The Edible Pepo Gourds

2007 Mix of Edible Gourds

2007 Mix of Edible Gourds

It's hard to figure this odd group of pepo squash.  Where do they belong?  They can be eaten as summer squash when young and some of them have outstanding squash flavor and texture for summer eatingThey can also be baked as an acorn squash when they are fully mature in the fall.  At that time their soft tender skin becomes tough and gourd-like.  This group is also long lasting.  They matured in July (as a summer squash) in September (as a fall squash) and were still in great shape as decorative squash (gourds) for Thanksgiving.

Dark Wings

Dark Wings

Dark Green Pumpkin

Dark Green Pumpkin

Warty Striped Pear

Warty Striped Pear

Round Gold

Round Gold

Round Moss Green

Round Moss Green

Orange Stripe Pumpkin

Orange Stripe Pumpkin

Big Orange Stripe Pear

Big Orange Stripe Pear

Oval Green Stripe

Oval Green Stripe

Little Orange Stripe Pear

Little Orange Stripe Pear

2006 Mix

2006 Mix

I do marvel at conventional gourd mixtures.  The tiny decorative ones.  With our breeding lines from FBF,  at least with these odd shapes and cool colors and patterns there is also good eating and never a bitter taste.  Our mistake is that these are big, maybe too big for the gourd market.  Call them pumpkins then.  We have saved seeds from all the squash pictured.  While these are the F2 and F3 parents of seed we make available, they are still a long way from being stabilized.  Most are summer squash / acorn crosses.  Expect variability.

The Edible Lagenaria Gourd

Gardeners know the Lagenaria Squash, not so much by their good taste, but as bottle gourds that can be cured and turned into ornamentals (penguin or swan gourds), storage containers (bushel basket gourd) or fashionable attire (New Guinea penis sheath gourd).  I went to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania where some of my Botany students went on to become resident interns and were continuing their studies.  One was working in the children's garden when I encountered her.   One of the things that I became much amused by was a tunnel shaped trellis covered with vines of cucuzzi caravazzi (snake squash).  In the late summer and fall, it became a highlight of the childrens garden.  Loads of 3-4 foot squash hung down from the roof of the tunnel. Kids would just wildly run through the tunnel of hanging squash with delight and I did the same. We duplicated the tunnel at the farm last year which was a lot of fun for those who came to the farm stand.

Lagenaria "Opu"

Lagenaria "Opu"

Opu Sliced

Opu Sliced

This year we decided to find the best edible lagenaria and looked at varieties being developed by breeders in India and China. We're still evaluating them, but the one pictured above was surprisingly early and productive.  Sometimes called Opu in India, it is a rampant climber that will sprawl across your yard if not provided with a trellis.
 

Cucuzzi Caravazzi (Snake Gourd) and the old Massey Ferguson


Cucuzzi Caravazzi (Snake Gourd) and the old Massey Ferguson

Long Island has a fairly large population of second and third generation Italians (my grandparents on my mom's side came to America from Italy in the late 1800's) and as a result, I grew up eating vegetables that were considered a bit strange in the 1950's even in the U.S. One of these was the cucuzzi squash. The vines of cucuzzi caravazzi (the Italian edible gourd or Snake Gourd) grew in a great mass that climbed up the back fence into the trees. I marveled at the 2-3 inch white flowers that opened at dusk and were pollinated by the hawk moths that visited during the night. We would harvest the immature foot long fruit for dinner; later, the ones we missed among the foliage and in the trees matured into three or four foot baseball bat fruits that hung down from the vines. These were prizes that we displayed on the front porch along with our best fall pumpkins.

We ate the immature cucuzzi fruit cooked in tomato sauce, fried with eggplant, and steamed with a spattering of olive oil or butter. They were just as good as zucchini squash, some say better because of firmer texture and a mild, never bitter taste. But they aren't a zucchini.  They too, are Lagenaria Gourds.

We tend to think of zucchini squash as an Italian vegetable. In fact, the Italian Cocozelle (di Napoli) was the first "zucchini" to make it to the U.S. seed catalogs of the mid 1930's. Oddly, zucchini is Cucurbita pepo, a member of the pumpkin family and a new world species brought to Italy by European explorers. While much of Europe saw the pumpkins brought back from America as just that, hard shelled storage squash, the Italians viewed the green unripe fruit as; well, zucchini and ate them with gusto.

You see, the Italians were already eating cucuzzi squash and had been for centuries as were the Indians of southern Asia, the Vietnamese and Chinese (who call the squash "opu" or "opo"). Cucuzzi is old world and the lagenaria gourds have a long history of use in the Old World as food as well as for making storage containers and ornaments. The Italians quickly substituted the new pumpkin squash for Lagenaria squash and gradually bred their pumpkins to look more like little long green squashes. Why the quick transition from Lagenaria to Zucchini? The same reason we don't see the cucuzzi in the market much. It is a rampant viner, it needs support, it needs night flying insects to be pollinated, it needs warmth and a long growing period and it is just not as productive as the zucchini squash. But, oh, it is a squash for memories.  Those who have tried the immature lagenaria squash prepared like zucchini give it high grades. One fruit can go a long way to feeding a crowd and the texture and flavor often surpass other summer squash. We like the lagenaria.  But the new world zucchini bear more fruit quicker.

The Edible Luffa Gourd

In China, Luffa cilindrica is known as "sin qua". There are a number of distinct varieties of edible Luffa Gourd sold in southeast asia and India, where the greatest genetic diversity is found.  There are varieties with angular or ridged fruit and smooth cylindrical types.  They are most often considered two different species.  Luffa acutangula is known in some parts of the southern U.S.  as vine okra or Chinese Okra, the angular varieties do look a bit like okra when harvested young.

  Smooth Luffa (Luffa cilindrica)

 
Smooth Luffa (Luffa cilindrica)

While the very young fruit can be sliced and added to salads where it gives a mild cucumber-like flavor, the fruit is esteemed in stir fry and in sauces because it has the ability to soak up the flavors and add texture. It is also batter dipped and fried.  It is an interesting, easy to use edible squash.  The kinds that I prefer have been developed for culinary use and are sweet or mild, non-bitter kinds.  They are always eaten when young (before they reach 6" long) and while they are firm and solid because the older fruit develop fibrous interiors, tough skin and a bitterness which may be slightly toxic.

Ridged Luffa (Luffa acutangula)


Ridged Luffa (Luffa acutangula)

The Luffa is more acclaimed in this country for the fibrous interior of mature fruit which can be dried and used as a cosmetic bath sponge.  There have been breeding programs at the University of North Carolina to develop good varieties for this purpose and to work out methods of growing and processing the fruit for cosmetic sponges.

While the Luffa is an old world tropical squash we have found some varieties that grow well on Long Island.  They are rampant sprawlers that do well on a trellis.  The large yellow flowers are bee pollinated.  This year for the first time we were able to produce a large seed crop of an early ridged kind.  Usually we manage to produce good food crops of the cylindric kinds but they tend to rot instead of dry on the trellis like the ridged kind. 

The dry ridged gourds rattle with their enclosed black seeds.  They are very tough with parchment like exteriors and tough cellulose fiber interiors.  What a gourd!  I'm not too interested in processing the fruit as a source of cosmetic sponge but I am told that it is quite lucrative.  The golden ridged fruits that I strung up in bunches for seed created quite a stir because of their ornamental look.  Maybe I could sell the gourds as an ornament and then tell my customers that when they're tired of looking at it, just soak it in water for a half hour and then peeling away the skin.  Make your own sponge.