Season 4.2: Gourds
Updated: Nov 29
Our new season is all about the GOURD. Our syllabus this time is in the form of a menu with guest recipes. With each course a focusing on a few questions, some we answer and some are for you to think about. Our reading list this season will grow as the seasons grows, and don't forget to look through our BookShop.org page
An apéritif: Fall From the Cosmos
What are gourds? Gourds are hard shelled fruit, mostly grown in warm or even tropical climates; they include melons, pumpkins, courgettes, calabash... They are part of cucurbitaceae family.
Why are gourds important? The bottle gourd was used as a vessel by pre-historic mankind, allowing them to carry water, and other foods and liquids, to travel distances. Long migration became possible. Gourds are believed to be the first cultivated crop, and the first (only?) crop to become global for prehistoric mankind.
QUESTION: when you hear ‘food and drink systems’ what comes to mind?
Starter: Squash and Red Pepper Croquettes
What are the migration roots of gourds? They originate on the African continent and travelled globally from there, mostly via human migration but also by sea. There has been much debate about how the gourd got from Africa to South America, it seemed impossible to believe that it could've travelled on the ocean and a land migration route, of the Asian gourd, seemed the most likely.
But the most recent data from DNA testing and the study of oceanic patterns, seems to prove a sea root devoid of human transportation. Tracing plants, particularly the domestication of plants, and how they moved, is a really important way of understanding cultures and how people moved - DNA testing is often the way this is done. For example, it seems that the bitter gourd found in Asia, was domesticated there first but, a wild, almost identical, version had been found in Tanzania!
How can we understand the significance of gourds in global cultures? It turns out the gourd has had many uses, not just as a source of food or to carry water but also as musical instruments - when dried, the seeds turn a gourd into a rattle. Across cultures and history gourds have been transformed into wind and string instruments - from banjos to sitars. Gourds also feature in myths and folklore, particularly related to orgin stories; Polynesian myths talk of the birth of the world, is related to the gourd; the Khmu people in Laos, credits the gourds to the birth of mankind; the Awrawak people of northern South American and Caribbean, the gourd is the source of the sea!. Because gourds have such a place in culture and storytelling we can understand how important they were to many cultures, globally.
QUESTION: What is your favourite gourd?
Main: Lentil, Coconut and Butternut Squash Dahl
More than instruments, dried gourd shells were also transformed into utensils and bowls for eating and drinking. They gave people the ability to share their meals and gather. It is in these gatherings that stories, mythologies and magic are shared.
The gourd most commonly used for eating and magic making is the calabash gourd which grow in a variety of shapes but are most recognisable in ancient texts and paintings when they take the shape of two rounded sections with a narrow neck. This shape is associated with the feminine form which connects the gourd to fertility and motherhood.
The calabash gourd is also associated with bringing health and protection. Traditional Chinese medicine also prescribes certain gourds to cure imbalances. And the calabash gourd is connected to Li Tieguai, one of the Eight Immortals who carries live-saving medicine in his gourd.
The gourd as a vessel also has huge significance in mystic practices around the world. Gourds can be used to house potions or spells hung around necks, outside of buildings or even on staffs as protection wards.
Gourds are bountiful, not only in terms of how they grow, but also in what they mean around the world. We usually don't like to generalise in our explanations about our seasons but the ubiquity of uses and cultural significance of gourds around the world makes that difficult. This is partially because the term 'gourd' itself is a generalisation of a huge class of plants.
Botany is one of the products of colonialism that tends to be overlooked. As colonisers 'explored' their 'New World' they also sought to enact their own order over it. In the name of discovery, classifications and divisions were made and the cultural specificities of plants became muted under a 'scientific' gaze. In this season we invite you to look at gourds and consider what they can tell us about the ways colonised mindsets affect even 'unbiased' realms of science.
QUESTION: what would you put in your protection spell? And what would it protect you from?
Dessert: Pumpkin Pie
What place to gourds have in the contemporary world? This of course has many answers, but as we like to hone in on just one thing here at Sourced to address wider questions - let's look at the pumpkin spiced latte. This 2023 is the 20th anniversary of the Starbucks Pumpkin spiced latte; Starbucks has changed a lot, but was part of the third wave coffee scene, interested in ethical sourcing and understanding deeply different roasts and origins - now we know it as a global brand.
Also a big part of the pumpkin spiced latte is fact it uses spices that were brought to the Americans and Europe through colonial trade. These inequitable trade roots are still in place today, and it is important to understand the history of these spices.
A Pumpkin Spice Latte or PSL, is a latte with a sugar syrup flavoured with the spices in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. In reality Starbucks is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their most successfully branded seasonal drink. Considering the PSL didn't actually have pumpkin in it until a few years ago, in its first iteration, the PSL was just a cleverly marketed Dirty Chai (chai latte with a shot of espresso).
There is also rumour / myth / storytelling that the earliest version of pumpkin pie can be traced to early settlers to the Americas, who brought cows so they could have milk (read our MILK season piece looking at how the dairy industry brutally reshaped landscapes), would scoop out a pumpkin's flesh for food and then pour milk, laced with the spices they had grown accustomed to in Europe. But gourds like pumpkin have a longer relationship to American agriculture than European settlement so it is possible this 'earliest' pumpkin pie was inspired by the culinary traditions of American Indians. If the PSL is purely linked to the pumpkin pie, even this has a colonial history to explore.
Pumpkin spiced lattes are also given a lot of flack, that it is 'basic' to like them. Some have suggested that this misogynistic, as such joys are seen as female and frivolous; but also these drinks are seen as white-coded, a drink that basic white women enjoy and therefore are elitist. It is much more complex than that, including the fact that these meanings are different in the US, the UK, and elsewhere. Instead of deeming a drink problematic to enjoy (we are allowed simple life pleasures) we think it is more important to think about the ingredients, the labour, the process of how these food and drinks got into our hands.
This season we'll be thinking about how popular trends are shaped and interpreted, not to crush the cringe but to find a way to embrace it.
QUESTION: what makes you basic?
Fall From the Cosmos
Mark Byrne, Co-Founder, Good Vodka
1.5 oz Good Vodka 0.75 oz Cointreau
0.75 oz lime juice
0.75 oz ocean spray cranberry cocktail
0.25 oz Allspice dram Shake, strain into a coupe, garnish with a lemon twist. "It's a variation of a cosmo but the allspice liqueur gives it a kind of fall inflection" co-founder of Good Vodka, Mark Byrne explains (read The Ten from Mark)
SQUASH AND RED PEPPER CROQUETTES
Radu Neamtu, Head Chef, Soho House & Co
400g mashed delica squash/butternut squash/ orange kabocha
400g sweet potato mash
125g plain flour
100g panko breadcrumbs
400g roasted red peppers, chopped
200g Roasted aubergine flesh, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp celery salt
2 tbsp dried oregano
500g oat milk
Salt/pepper to taste
1. Roast sweet potatoes and delica squash in a preheated oven at 180c.
remove skin, scoop flesh and mash.
2. Roast or grill red peppers and aubergines, peel and chop flesh.
3. Mix all the roasted vegetables together and add garlic, paprika, cumin,
celery salt, dried oregano, salt, pepper and adjust to taste.
4. Shape and pane in flour, oat milk and breadcrumbs and then cook in a
deep fryer at 170c until golden brown and crispy.
Lentil, Coconut and Butternut Squash Dahl
Radu Neamtu, Head Chef, Soho House & Co
300 g green lentils
200 g creamy coconut milk
200 g of any variety of squash diced, roasted
1 tbsp veg oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
3 onions, diced
1 green chilli
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp paprika
1 large tomato, chopped
1. Rinse lentils and cooked in 1l of unsalted water for around 20 mins or
until cooked through.
2. Use the trimmings from the diced squash to roast with olive oil salt and
pepper until soft and then blend to a puree
3. In a separate pan, heat the oil up and toast the cinnamon stick and
cumin seeds, then add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook on
medium heat until cooked through.
4. Add the spices, squash puree and chopped tomato and cook for a few
minutes or until a paste is formed.
5. Add the cooked lentils, roasted squash and coconut milk and cook for a
further few minutes.
6. Garnish with fried shallot and thai basil leaves.
10g fresh grated nutmeg
25g ground cloves
50g ground ginger
100g ground cinnamon
Mix together and store in an air-tight container. Use extra spice mix to flavour cookies, cakes, custards or other concoctions.
280g plain flour
110g cold water
10g white wine vinegar
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut butter into mix and slowly add water to make a rough puff pastry. Let rest in fridge for at least 30 min or up to 1 week before rolling out pastry. roll pastry to cover a 9" pie tin. Blind bake at 180C for 15 minutes, add pie filling while the pastry is still hot.
150g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2tsp pumpkin spice
425g pumpkin purée (one tin)
340g double cream or evaporated milk
Mix sugar, spices and salt together. Add eggs and mix until smooth. Add purée and cream and mix until smooth.
Bake 180C for 15 min. Turn down oven to 160-165 for 30-45 min or until set.
Say Hello to the Scientist Harvesting Clues About Ancient Gourds and Maize, Smithsonian Magazine
The Science Behind Decorative Gourd Season, Smithsonian Magazine
Bottle Gourd - history, uses and folklore, Asian Argi-History Vol. 15
Reconstructing the Origins and Dispersal of the Polynesian Bottle Gourd, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 23, Issue 5
Gourd Girlie, Self Offering by Apoorva Sripathi
The Dark Side of Botany: How the Myth of the Harmless Botanist Conceals Colonial Realities , Brighton and Hove Museums
The Long Shadow Of Colonial Science, Noema Magazine
Chewing on seeds - Jenny Lau writes about taking the time to sit and eat seeds (many of which are gourds), and the social, political, and cultural value of this activity.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: our year of seasonal eating, by Barbara Kingsolver. A book about eating seasonally and growing your own food. Not specifically gourd related, but as gourds were our first cultivated crop, we thought a book about growing is relevant!
The Last Bite, by Anna Higham, a seasonal dessert cookbook with an excellent section on pumpkins