This fall, my daughter has been fascinated with these weird looking, oddly shaped green, yellow, orange and brown “things” at the grocery store. Some have ugly warts; others look like they were halfway dipped in a can of dark green paint. What are they, anyway? Fruits or vegetables? And what do you do with them? I have bought gourds in years past and arranged them in a bowl as an autumn centerpiece. But that’s where my would-be gourd experience stops. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite on a par with my inquisitive 5 year old and had to do some research.
Now, you don’t have to fear your child’s interrogations in the produce section – or worse, at the farmer’s market in earshot of these folks who naturally know everything about Mother Earth’s offerings – even weird fruits that deceptively look like veggies and most varieties of which are inedible…
Yes, indeed, the first gourd fact you should know is that – botanically speaking – they are fruits, not vegetables.
Other facts you might want to know about gourds:
A gourd is a plant of the Cucurbitaceae family. The term gourd is used for the plant itself as well as for the fruit. Other crops in that same fruit family include cucumbers, squash (including pumpkins), luffas and melons. However, the term “gourd” most commonly refers to the hard-rinded, grotesque-looking inedible fruit or their dried shells, often used for decoration.
Learn how to dry gourds (source: Farmer’s Almanac).
There are three types of gourd: ornamentals, hardshells and luffas (or vegetable sponges).
The cucurbita – or ornamentals – are, as you would suspect, the gourds people use for colorful fall arrangements. This great chart of ornamental gourds from the American Gourd Society (yep, there is such an organization) shows common types of ornamentals, such as egg gourd, spoon gourd, bicolor gourd, pear gourd or warted gourd. (Click on the name of the gourd in the chart to see an image of the real fruit.)
The lagenaria – or hardshells – are larger gourds usually used dried for crafts. Some varieties of hardshells are dipper, bushel, bottle, birdhouse and maranka, as the American Gourd Society’s lagenaria chart shows.
Luffas (sometimes spelled Loofah or Lufah)
Luffas, unlike other gourds, have an outer shell that can be easily removed to expose their tough, fibrous interior. And yes, that’s the stuff you can use as a natural sponge for your bubble bath. You didn’t know this beauty product is related to pumpkins, huh? Neither did I…