The calabash is a cosmopolitan plant whose traces are found in Thailand, as well as in Mexico and Papua. This annual vine of the family of Cucurbitaceae produces edible calabashes, and upon drying for serving utensils.
History of calabash
The origins of the Lagenaria long remained a mystery as we found objects that testify to their use as early as 12,000 years BC in Peru, 8,000 years BC in Thailand, 6,000 years later in Zambia. This probably is related to the fact that their fruit floats and can cross the seas without problem for more than 7 months without altering the seeds.
The plant came from Africa and reached both American and Asian, 8 000 to 9 000 years ago. It was one of the first plants to be domesticated in America, maybe even reported by its first inhabitants from Asia. Genetic analyses of Asian and African forms have since confirmed its source.
Description of the calabash
The plant is cited by Pliny the elder (23-79) under the name of cucurbita. It is among the plants developed in the middle ages under Charlemagne.
The Lagenaria include 6 species annual or perennial, climbing and appeared to be from Africa. Unlike many Cucurbitaceous flowers are white. They are also called “the gourds with white flowers”. Their leaves are pretty smelly when we crease them. The fruits are calabashes of sizes and different shapes including the use or appearance that earned them their explicit names.
The fruit of the calabash or pilgrim gourd (Lagenaria siceraria ‘Pilgrim’) has a shape of a pear to about 20 cm high. Its name comes because the pilgrims of St James wore it like a water bottle on their belt.
The annual plant emits long rough hairy stems ornate tendrils and large alternate leaves, in the shape of a heart at the base and slightly lobed. The surface of the lamina is soft to the touch, unlike the leaves of pumpkins.
Male and female flowers are separated on the same root (monoecious). They are worn by a longer peduncle for the male flower. Their scented white Corolla is made of 5 petals welded to the base and ends in star. Female flowers are distinguished by the bulge of the ovary as the corolla, which will give birth to the fruit after fertilization. The flowers have the particularity to open at dusk.
The young fruits are often consumable but the interest lies in the use made of dried fruit both lightweight, watertight, robust, in very variable forms and dimensions. These berries contain seeds embedded in a soft flesh. About 1 cm long, they have a flat, more or less rectangular shape with small bulges at the top of the rectangle. Their surface is covered with lighter streaks.
The fruits have medicinal properties and a pretty bland flavor but are consumed in India and Southeast Asia such as the zucchini. Their cucurbitacine content makes it more or less bitter flesh. Mature, the skin (pericarp) smooth or covered with warts – it is not a disease – hardens and takes pretty brown hues or spotted green. The flesh retracts so that it is possible to hear the seeds rattle when you shake strongly.
In Africa, calabashes of different sizes are cut in the middle to make kitchen tools (bowls, spoons, gourdes) or to serve as a sounding board to the balafon, the berimbau, or kora. They are also easy to paint or pyrograve and are at the origin of the maracas for which it only took a hole and fill it with sand to punctuate the Brazilian sambas. The variety ‘Sennari’ forms a small bottle of 5-15 cm, which is used to transport the Japanese saké. A long time ago soldiers used calabash as a container for gunpowder.
The term Lagenaria comes from latin lagena, “bottle”, the lagenarius designating the manufacturer of bottles. Siceraria probably comes from the latin siccus which means ‘dry’ referring to the use of dried fruits.
Not to be confused: the calabash (Crecentia cujete) is a tree of tropical America of the family of the Begonias which also produces types of calabash seafood.
Species and varieties of calabash
The American Gourd Society classifies Lagenaria siceraria cultivars according to different types:
• Basketball: round fruits ranging in diameter from 10 to 50 cm and whose skin can be smooth or viral.
• Bottle: fruit with 2 bulges sometimes separated by a collar or 1 single bulge extended by a neck narrowing towards the stalk, respectively serving as bottle or pear powder. They range in size from 5 cm to 70 cm high.
• Dipper: fruit epidermis sometimes very tormented at home ‘Marenka’, with a bulge extended by a Swan-neck up to 2 m at ‘Long Handled Dipper’. Some have a form of Club at ‘Club’.
• Trough or Snake: fruits of elongated evoking a banana or a snake according to size, up to 2 m long at ‘Japanese Long Gourd’ which has a bulge at the 2 ends.
Where to plant it?
These plants require heat and a longer time to grow than the bitter apple but should not be more than 3 weeks in bucket before be transplanted.
They grow and climb on a solid and fairly high and strong pergola, an old tree, a fence or on a slope especially for round or neck curved fruits.
Choose a sunny or sheltered location with a well-drained soil. Planting in a big pot on a terrace is still possible.
When to plant the calabash?
About 3 weeks before transplanting in open ground, in March-April according to the regions. Young plants are put to germinate at a warm location for 2 or 3 weeks and to plant as soon as there is greater risk of frost and they reach 30 to 40 cm high.
How to plant it?
Sow the seeds in the bucket or in the ground under frame on a layer under greenhouse or directly in place if the ground temperature reaches 21 ° C (May). If you leave the plants in their bucket too long, the roots become fibrous and the plant is struggling to resume on the one hand and develop harmonious growth on the other.
Press the seeds of 2.5 to 5 cm deep, spaced 15 to 30 cm or one per bucket. In the ground, the ranks are spaced 2 to 2.50 m. after germination, then leaving a plant every 90 cm.
As all of the Cucurbitaceae, they are gourmet plants growing directly on the pile of manure. Dig holes about 30 cm in all directions and fill with compost. Take care of bedding plants in each of the holes, then covering with the Earth that you extracted. Space plants 3 to 5 m.
For a growing tray, fill it to a hotbed of quality.
The size of the calabash
There is no need to prune the stems to accelerate flowering.
Diseases, pests and parasites
Late blight and anthracnose can attack foliage and greatly reduce the production of calabash and cause the death of the plant. Avoid wetting the foliage, apply a copper or other treatment fungicide in case of attack.
Harvesting the calabash
When and how to harvest?
To be consumed, the calabashes are still picking green and tender.
For a long conservation of calabashes, collect as late as possible just before the first frost. In general, the foliage is already dried. Cut the fruit, leaving part of the stalk for a better conservation.
The conservation of the calabash
Handle fruit carefully and wash the skin with soap. Let them dry for 3 weeks well separated and turning them on each side.
Polishing with beeswax strengthens their luster and protects them from moisture.
Multiplication of the calabash
When and how to harvest the seeds?
The cross fertilization predominates: fertilization takes place between the pollen and the ovary of flowers from plants or even of different varieties, so that one is not sure to keep the same variety. In our climate, a distance of a few hundred meters between 2 distinct varieties ensures a certain homogeneity of the descendants. The flowers can also be self-fertilized by flowers on the same plant.
How to pollinate the flower?
• In order to gather seeds of the same variety as the mother plant, tie with tape for work of painting, male and female flowers to blossom in the evening. Count 2 males for 1 female flower flowers.
• At the end-of-day, pick the male flowers. Remove the tape then the petals to clear the stamens. Carefully remove the tape from the female flowers then brush their pistils with pollen and close the flower with the scotch. The flowers do not completely thrive when removing the tape, if they are not sufficiently mature. Attach a ribbon around the stalk to recognize those that have been pollinated manually.
• Wait until the fruit is well dry until the frosts arrive to pick him up. Wait at least a month to extract the seeds unless the gourd rots. In this case, to separate them from the pulp, wash them before putting them to dry in a well ventilated on a sieve. The drying is complete when they break to the folding. The seeds can be stored up to 5 years.
Squash is ideal for covering large areas in a short time, shadow to create a pleasant atmosphere.