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Gardeners know the Lagenaria Squash, not so much by their good taste,
but as bottle gourds that can be cured and turned into ornamentals
(penguin or swan gourds), storage containers (bushel basket gourd) or
fashionable attire (New Guinea penis sheath gourd). I went to
Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania where some of my Botany students went
on to become resident interns and were continuing their studies.
One was working in the children's garden when I encountered her.
One of the things that I became much amused by was a tunnel shaped
trellis covered with vines of cucuzzi caravazzi (snake squash).
In the late summer and fall, it became a highlight of the childrens
garden. Loads of 3-4 foot squash hung down from the roof of the
tunnel. Kids would just wildly run through the tunnel of hanging squash
with delight and I did the same. We duplicated the tunnel at the farm
last year which was a lot of fun for those who came to the farm stand.
This year we decided to find the best edible lagenaria and looked at
varieties being developed by breeders in India and China. We're still
evaluating them, but the one pictured above was surprisingly early and
productive. Sometimes called Opu in India, it is a rampant
climber that will sprawl across your yard if not provided with a
Cucuzzi Caravazzi (Snake Gourd) and the old Massey Ferguson
Long Island has a fairly large population of second and third
generation Italians (my grandparents on my mom's side came to America
from Italy in the late 1800's) and as a result, I grew up eating
vegetables that were considered a bit strange in the 1950's even in the
U.S. One of these was the cucuzzi squash. The vines of cucuzzi
caravazzi (the Italian edible gourd or Snake Gourd) grew in a great
mass that climbed up the back fence into the trees. I marveled at the
2-3 inch white flowers that opened at dusk and were pollinated by the
hawk moths that visited during the night. We would harvest the immature
foot long fruit for dinner; later, the ones we missed among the foliage
and in the trees matured into three or four foot baseball bat fruits
that hung down from the vines. These were prizes that we displayed on
the front porch along with our best fall pumpkins.
We ate the immature cucuzzi fruit cooked in tomato sauce, fried with
eggplant, and steamed with a spattering of olive oil or butter. They
were just as good as zucchini squash, some say better because of firmer
texture and a mild, never bitter taste. But they aren't a
zucchini. They too, are Lagenaria Gourds.
We tend to think of zucchini squash as an Italian vegetable. In fact,
the Italian Cocozelle (di Napoli) was the first "zucchini" to make it
to the U.S. seed catalogs of the mid 1930's. Oddly, zucchini is
Cucurbita pepo, a member of the pumpkin family and a new world species
brought to Italy by European explorers. While much of Europe saw the
pumpkins brought back from America as just that, hard shelled storage
squash, the Italians viewed the green unripe fruit as; well, zucchini
and ate them with gusto.
You see, the Italians were already eating cucuzzi squash and had been
for centuries as were the Indians of southern Asia, the Vietnamese and
Chinese (who call the squash "opu" or "opo"). Cucuzzi is old world and
the lagenaria gourds have a long history of use in the Old World as
food as well as for making storage containers and ornaments. The
Italians quickly substituted the new pumpkin squash for Lagenaria
squash and gradually bred their pumpkins to look more like little long
green squashes. Why the quick transition from Lagenaria to Zucchini?
The same reason we don't see the cucuzzi in the market much. It is a
rampant viner, it needs support, it needs night flying insects to be
pollinated, it needs warmth and a long growing period and it is just
not as productive as the zucchini squash. But, oh, it is a squash for
memories. Those who have tried the immature lagenaria squash
prepared like zucchini give it high grades. One fruit can go a long way
to feeding a crowd and the texture and flavor often surpass other
summer squash. We like the lagenaria. But the new world zucchini
bear more fruit quicker.