Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gourd - a backyard sustenance

When we were young, my mother always had a "bu" vine at the back of our house in Brooke Drive. Sometimes we would give some away to friends and relatives in return for their gifts. Sometimes we had it every day because it could grow so well and sometimes we went out to count up to fifteen on the vines.

In my mind, this vegetable has always been a backyard sustenance and it indeed helped our family through thick and thin, besides the China made Luncheon Meat of course.

We had it in soup, as a stir fry and sometimes to bulk up a meat dish. We learned how to be thrifty eating very simple food. Dried prawns were cheap then, so quite often my mother would use a bit of it, pound it really nice and fine and have a sliced gourd fried with dried prawns dish for an afternoon meal. It was nice food on the table served with a lot of love.

The humble gourd or calabash is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, one of the calabash subspecies is known as the bottle gourd. The fresh fruit has a light green smooth skin and a white flesh. This is what we have in Sarawak and they are found everywhere. Just anywhere anyone wants to plant!!

The calabash was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not for food but as a container. It was named for the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete), a different type of plant.

The calabash, as a vegetable, is frequently used in southern Chinese cuisine as either a stir-fry or in a soup. The Chinese name for calabash is hulu (simplified Chinese: 葫芦; traditional Chinese: 葫蘆; pinyin: húlu) or huzi (Chinese: 葫子; pinyin: húzi) in Mandarin.

In Japan, where it is known as kanpyō, it is sold in the form of dried, marinated strips. It is used in place of seafood in a form of vegetarian makizushi (rolled sushi).

In Italian cuisine, it is known as cucuzza (plural cucuzze).

In Central America, the seeds of the Calabash gourd are toasted and ground with other ingredients (including rice, cinnamon, and allspice) to make the drink horchata. Calabash is known locally as morro or jícaro.

In India, it is known as Lauki in Urdu or Dudhi or Ghiya in Hindi, Sorakaya in Telugu, Dudhi-Bhopala in Marathi, Sorekayi in Kannada and 'Suraikkaai' (colloq. "Sorakkay") in Tamil. In parts of India, the dried, unpunctured gourd is used as a float (called 'Surai-kuduvai' in Tamil) to learn swimming in rural areas.

In Arabic it is called Qara. In Bangladesh it is called Lau or Kumra/Komra. The tender young gourd is cooked as a summer squash.

The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.

Additionally, the gourd can be dried out and used to smoke pipe tobacco. A typical design yielded by this squash is recognized in the pipe of Sherlock Holmes.

West Africa
Hollowed out and dried calabashes are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice, carry water and also just as a food container. Smaller sizes are used as bowls to drink palm-wine. Calabashes are used by some musicians in making the kora (a harp-lute), xalam (a lute), ngoni (a lute) and the goje (a traditional fiddle). They also serve as resonators on the balafon (West African marimba). The calabash is also used in making the shegureh (a Sierra Leonean women's rattle)[1] and balangi (a Sierra Leonean type of balafon) musical instruments. Sometimes, large calabashes are simply hollowed, dried and used as percussion instruments, especially by Fulani, Songhai, Gur-speaking and Hausa peoples.

In many rural parts of Mexico, the calabash is dried and carved hollow to create a bule, a gourd used to carry water around like a canteen.

The hulu is an ancient remedy for health. In the old days the doctors would carry medicine inside so it has fabled properties for healing. The hulu is believed to absorb negative earth-based qi (energy) that would otherwise affect health and is a traditional Chinese medicine cure. Dried calabash is also used as containers of liquids, often liquors or medicine. Calabash were also grown in earthen molds to form different shapes and dried to house pet crickets, which were kept for their song and fighting abilities. The texture of the gourd lends itself nicely to the sound of the animal.

Thinking about gourds just make me wonder about today's world where food seems to be full of fast food and gourmet food and thousands of other pickings. But anytime, where our home is, a good family meal is simply wonderful with stir fried gourd, some salted fish and a nice bowl of changkok manis soup. In this way my children and I know that when we live simply, others can simply live.

The heart of the gourd is soft and gentle to feel. It represents mother's love I would tell my children. The softness is the softness of one's heart. So we have to be gentle with other people's feelings. The skin of the gourd is thin and so easily sliced. A little poking with a sharp knife would draw out the gourd's sticky juices. People around us are sensitive and easily hurt. So we have to handle people with care, like the way we handle the gourd.

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