My uncle was a good country gentleman, a veteran of WWII, and what one might call a gentle giant in that he was generally quiet but when he did speak it was worth listening to. He was the glue that held our family together as my grandfather died young and my uncle assumed the duties of patriarch. His occupation was simply “farmer”. He raised cattle, kept chickens, turkeys, guineas, pigs, and grew fields of corn and common, as well as some uncommon, vegetables in his kitchen garden. Some of what he routinely grew when I was growing up faded into oblivion with his passing so when I rediscover one of his classics it is a little like regaining a piece of my childhood.
One such plant is cucuzzi, aka, edible gourd, Italian edible gourd, etc, but which my uncle called Yard-long bean. The latter is what I knew it as, so, when I researched it and realized that his bean and the cucuzzi gourd are in fact one and the same I wondered how he came to know it as a bean. An article from “Popular Science”, May 1920, reveals the plant was known by many as such, sometimes called New Guinea bean. The article was entitled, “When a Bean Is Not a Bean It’s a Gourd”. It has sometimes been called snake gourd although the two are actually two different plants.
“This gourd springs up as by magic when the seeds are planted after the danger of frost has passed. Like the ordinary pole-bean, it will grow whether cared for or not.” The plant is an aggressive spreader so give it plenty of room then let it do for itself. Unless sprawling over other vegetables is considered desirable they are best trellised.
A humorous discussion on how an edible gourd came to be called a New Guinea Butter Bean” was found in “Bean-bag” [June 1920]. “All jests aside, the elongated gourd with the funny name is conceded to be a quite acceptable vegetable. It can be prepared in a score or more ways and finds favor with many appetites…The gourds are at their best when about twelve inches long and covered with a white fuzzy growth”.
The plant’s merits are many. Cattle, goats, and pigs eat them, poultry eat the seed, seed are easily perpetuated by letting one or two of the gourds grow to full size and harvesting the seed for the next year’s crop, and any that are inadvertently overlooked and get too large to cook can be dried and used for containers or crafts. In the 60’s and 70’s my mom and aunts made floral arrangements, dippers, and bird houses out of the large dried gourds.
I’ve made out an order for seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and by this time next year I’ll be cooking a treat from my childhood and have my very own Mason jar full of dried seed stored away just like Uncle Wallace.
A 1909 book [“The English Vegetable Garden, 1909] spoke of its merits as a vegetable and recommended it for soups and stews. It can be cooked in any way one would summer squash. We most often sliced and fried the young tender gourds after a dusting of cornmeal. After all, we are from the South and you know what they say about us and our frying pans. Blissful Meals, yall, may your growing season see plentiful rain and sun and may your skillet never be empty. -Thehistoricfoodie, aka, Vickie Brady.