I am about to describe an amazing edible plant that has been providing us with lots of nutritious and tasty food, while requiring very little input. A blog reader graciously sent me seeds, so we tried them. It is a fantastic winner, growing vigorously even in the intense Florida heat and bugs. With the goal of eventually raising all our own food, high producing plants that are pest, heat, cold, and drought resistant are of great value to us.
The end of April we placed three of these unusual seeds in the raised mound under a leg of our windmill. They eagerly poked up, although one perished in an accident. The two remaining seedlings quickly developed beautiful deep green velvety leaves. Before we knew it the trailing vines had to be trained to the second leg of the windmill so they wouldn’t expand out of their alloted territory.
In June the first little fruits were found, and within a few weeks our family of eight was enjoying three to four meals weekly eating them and their greens. The vine soon reached the top of the 21 foot (6.4 meter) windmill tower. Last week Silver Oak climbed the ladder carefully to avoid trampling them, and cut off the ends threatening to interfere with the windmill blades. It is now trailing halfway down the opposite side of the windmill tower, making it at least 30 feet (9 meters) long, and still growing like mad.
What is this mysterious plant? Jack’s beanstalk? Not quite. It is an edible gourd native to Italy which has many names. We know it as Cucuzzi. It is my absolute favorite plant this summer, partly because it makes me feel successful in growing our own food with little labor. It is also beautiful and produces delicious food enjoyed by the whole family and guests.
As the vines spread out, I used pantyhose stockings to tie them up to the legs of the windmill. Pantyhose is strong enough to support the vines and will flex with growth. I’ve become too much of a country gal and haven’t worn pantyhose for years, but a friend gave us some which we are putting to good use (thanks Ivylover!).
These long slender gourds can grow to be three feet (one meter) long, but by then they are reportedly too tough to eat. We keep out a sharp eye for young ones because they easily grow two to four inches each day and quickly get too large if we are not alert. We’ve read they are only edible up to 12” (30.5 cm) long, but we’ve found that at 18” (45.5 cm) long they are still quite tender and delicious, so we are letting them grow longer. We prepare them just like we would any summer squash like zucchini, with the skin. Their flavor is quite mild so they can be used in a variety of ways.
This plant also provides endless greens. Several months ago I learned that the leaves of squash, pumpkins, and these gourds are very edible! This has opened a whole new world for us. In other countries people know they are edible and sell them in the markets. The vines produce more fruit when thinned out anyway, so twice a week I harvest many long shoots growing where I don’t want them. Since I can no longer reach the gourd vines high on the tower, I’ve been cutting more pumpkin greens growing on the back side of the windmill.
The stems are edible but require lengthy cooking to not be stringy. So we use only the leaves, tiny developing buds, and about the last three inches (8 cm) of the tender tips for cooked greens. The rest are given to the goats who don’t like the fuzzy leaves anyway.
The gourd greens need only be simmered about 15 minutes to make delicious cooked greens easily substituted for spinach. I prefer it over spinach because it’s not as limp or slimy unless overcooked. We like it in pasta dishes, casseroles, mixed with other veggies over rice or potatoes, and as a side dish alone or mixed with the cooked gourds themselves. The fuzz disappears during cooking.
Here is a very simple recipe for our family of eight:
6-quart (5.5L) pot packed full of gourd greens (or squash or pumpkin greens)
One 18” (45.5 cm) or two 12” (30.5 cm) gourds or other summer squash
Water to cover bottom of pot (more if not using waterless cookware)
1 Tbls olive oil
Salt to taste
Garlic to taste
1 or 2 onions chopped (optional)
We use no chemicals near our plants, so we simply rinse the leaves, tear them into roughly 3×3” (8×8 cm) pieces, and stuff them into the pot. Like spinach, they greatly reduce in size during cooking, hence the “stuffing.” Add water, olive oil, salt and garlic to the pot to simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the gourds (and onions) into bite-sized pieces and add the last five minutes of cooking. When the gourd pieces are just barely tender it is done.
For fun we’re allowing the first gourd to mature to see how big it will grow. It is now 33½” (85 cm) long and 14” (35.5 cm) in
diameter circumference (oops, I really goofed on that one) suspended from the tower by pantyhose. Any creative ideas how to use it after it’s fully dried? We will be sure to extract the seeds to share. This plant not only provides lots of food, but practical materials as well.
I forgot to mention that sometimes the leaves can make your arms itchy when handling them. I’ve learned to wash any skin that comes in contact with them with soap and water after harvesting them, and it has always taken care of the itch right away.
Have you discovered any unusual plants that are high producers or have other remarkable qualities? I’d love to hear from you.
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