Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

We are Never Bored of Gourds

Sometimes the most interesting things we grow in our gardens are not edible at all. Many varieties of gourds grace our fences and trellises, adding beauty and interest to the garden. But for our forebears, growing gourds of many types might make the difference between eating and not. They were grown, dried, then used for vessels, birdhouses, toys and musical instruments.

One type, known as the long-handled dipper gourd or salt gourd, hangs from its support to allow the weight of its heavy bulb to straighten its long neck. When it becomes dry and hollow in the winter, its side is cut out and used as a water dipper. In old Appalachia, in the days before running water, one always hung by the well or water bucket to slake a summer thirst. Often, the tip end of the neck was cut, and valuable store-bought salt was poured inside, corked, then kept by the fireplace kettle for seasoning supper.

Another interesting type is the nest-egg gourd, which resembles a pure white egg growing on its leafy vines. These were dried and used during actual egg-gathering time. When the hens’ real eggs were collected, one of the dried egg gourds were placed on the nest to fool the hen into thinking she still had a clutch of eggs, ensuring she would continue to lay on that same nest. A cruel trick we sometimes play on a new culinary staff member is to toss the egg gourd across the length of the kitchen to watch him scramble to catch it!

Other gourds, like the serpentine snake gourd, was painted to resemble a copperhead and placed among the newly-planted corn patch to ward off sprout-pulling crows. The pocket-sized spinning or Tennessee dancing gourd is spun like a top between the fingers. One imagines the teacher in a one-room schoolhouse guarding a desk drawer full of confiscated gourds. Others were used to store sugar, house insect-eating birds or used as dinnerware, (perhaps like 19th century Tupperware).

Gourds may serve only as a design element in our day, but in times past, they deserved a place in the garden as important as the food crops.

Jeff Ross
Garden Manager