The fruit you scoop from innards of a gourd can be just as tasty as any squash, pumpkin or zucchini. Boil it, mash it, grill it or mix it all up into a tasty casserole for your next potluck event. Cook your gourds with butter, olive oil or deep-fried breading. Season your gourds with brown sugar, cinnamon or sage. With cooler weather approaching, you’ll see more gourds at the farmers markets. And while you may be tempted to grab some gourds while they are ripe, consider leaving a few in the sun for more artistic endeavors.
Inside and Out
Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants in existence. You’ll even catch mention of the hard-shelled veggie in the Bible, paying homage to these delicious plants. Because of their shape, some refer to them as “nature’s pottery.” Gourds have been used to make crafts and decorations for centuries, although the original uses were probably more about function than fashion. The Appalachian folk who harvested gourds at the turn of the century discovered that, after they consumed the rich goodness inside, the shells made excellent cups for drinking and practical vessels for storage. That was the way of the early settlers. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Appalachian farmers didn’t have to use every item they harvested for practical uses. At that point, they started looking at gourds to make everything from birdfeeders to Christmas ornaments.
How It’s Done
The process of making gourd crafts is fairly simple. Leaving your gourds on the vine is perhaps the easiest way to cure them. Gourds are absolutely content just lying in an open field or hanging loosely on a trellis. Check out your drying gourds every couple week and you’ll notice them getting lighter and lighter. When they have cured and are ready to serve as your next craft project, they’ll weigh less than a half-pound each.During this process, gourds can get moldy. After you pick them, hollow them out and clean them thoroughly in fresh water. You can make gourds into cups, Christmas ornaments, family crests, pencil holders, masks, sculptures… anything you can possibly imagine.
Getting on the Gourd Express
Gourd crafts have reached a level of popularity that hasn’t been seen before, according to the United States American Gourd Society, which formed way back in 1937. Crafters in the Appalachian South have been using gourds to make little trinkets, decorations and household knick-knacks for a long time, but recently everyone else seems to be catching on and catching up. Some tout Ginger Summit’s books on gourd crafting, published in 1996, as the impetus behind the surge in gourd art popularity. But people were making gourd crafts — and even selling and trading them — well before then.
Asheville’s Gourd Artist
Susan Davis, known as Susie Q. Gourds, is a testament to this. She began selling her gourd art on the side of the road in 1988. Now, some 27 years later, she says more than 6,000 pieces of her gourd art have gone to friends, family and clients. Today, she prefers to do custom jobs. There’s something special that goes into her art that you can’t get it anywhere else, and her clients both recognize and appreciate it.
“As an artist, I have to please myself,” she says, “And in doing so, I please my clients.”
Susie Q. Gourds has been creating art since she was 8, but gourds inspire her more than anything. Her advice to gourd newbies: “A gourd will talk to you. Look it all over and let it tell you what it wants to be.” While you can treat gourds like wood once they’ve been cured and cleaned, she warns that: “It’s addictive; you’ll have to do another and another…”
Six different galleries carry her art in Western North Carolina, including Mountain Made in Asheville’s Grove Arcade. Susie Q. Gourds also has a regular booth at the Asheville Farmer’s Market in building B. You can view her work online at SusieQGourds.com.