One of my favorite activities as a child was harvesting pumpkins and gourds grown right in our mountain garden. There was a sense of pride from having planted the seeds, watered the plants, and watched the gourds grow all season long. Using these gourds to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving around the house was more rewarding to me than the perfectly shaped pumpkins you can purchase from the grocery store. Our harvest was always full of different shapes and sizes as we grew a great variety of these pleasing plants. The following two gourd cultivars are some of my favorite to gourds to grow.
The Big Apple Gourd
The name says it all. The Big Apple gourd plants produce large apple-shaped fruit about 6 to 8 inches in diameter that weigh about 4 pounds. Each plant can produce up to 15 smooth fleshed gourds that are speckled dark green. Harvested gourds are great for decorative purposes but are not edible. Use them fresh off the vine in seasonal groupings or dry them for use in crafts. I recommend trellising to avoid gourds with flat spots or discoloration. While hard to find, there are other apple gourd varieties that are slighter smaller than the Big Apple.
This French heirloom has been celebrated for its unique appearance since the late 18th or early 19th century. The name comes for the distinctive shape of the gourd which historic growers thought looked like a turban. Also known as the Turk’s Cap, this gourd is actually classified as a winter squash and plants produce low bulbous fruits with a bright orange cap and a green-and-white striped base. They weigh about 5 pounds and usually are 12 inches in diameter.
Unlike apple gourds, the Turban gourd is edible, though there’s a strong debate in the culinary world over whether it’s worth eating. Many feel that this heirloom is too “squashy” and unsuitable for consumption, but it also has many advocates who suggest that the sweet flavor it imparts when baked or steamed is perfect for use in pies. I happen to like the flavor the Turk’s Cap, but I suggest you grow it for the looks and then try one for dinner.