The Malabar Gourd
The Malabar Gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia)
is a fascinating rampant, spreading vine of the Cucumber family,
which trails for many yards, for training up fences, over pergolas
or left to range across the ground. It's also known as the Fig
Leaved Gourd, after its attractive foliage. The fruits are brightly
coloured and mottled, and are quite huge. They can be eaten very
small like courgettes, but their real purpose is for them to be
left to ripen their hard skins and, using the recipes below, turned
into the dessert Chilacayote, as they are in their native South
America, or Cheveaux d'Ange.
The Malabar Gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia)
They're very easy to grow. Seed is sown
individually in pots in late May / early June. Although it's a
huge plant, it gets big very quickly and there is no benefit --
and we believe this applies to any of the squashes -- in sowing
them too early at a time of year when the soil can often be too
cold for them to planted out and there is usually still a risk
of frost. Allow plenty of room when planting them out. They can
run up to 18 feet, but that doesn't mean that they need to be
given that much space as they find their own way beyond their
allotted bounds in any case, even up into neighbouring trees.
They love lots of water, which is more easily retained if they're
heavily mulched with organic matter, and a thick material like
cardboard or old carpet on top of that keeps the weeds down through
the whole season. Otherwise, they can be left to their own devices.
The fruits are only properly ripe if they are left to run their
full course on the vines until they are cut down by frost. The
frost will not harm the fruits. Their skin is especially hard,
and it may be necessary to tackle them with a hacksaw, or break
them open with an axe. We have kept fruits for over three years,
after which time the contents dessicate and rattle around inside.
Given half a chance they are perennial,
and the rootstock of Malabar Gourd is sometimes used for grafting
other members of the family onto, being particularly resistant
to the soil borne diseases which can affect other related crops.
Although Cucurbita ficifolia
is fun and easy to grow, you can be left with lots of fine fruits
and no recipes for using them. Here are two recipes for the best-known
products; remember, it is also possible to eat the immature fruits,
prepared as you would courgettes.
We lost the recipe we had orginally. Here
is a version that was sent by e-mail. We haven't tried it ourselves,
but it resembles the one we lost, with the exception of the lime,
which we presume helps to soften the flesh. The recipe is as we
received it, with our comments in italics. Please let us know
how you get on with it.
- 4-6 pounds of diced chilacayote
- 1 tablespoon of lime
- 3 1/2 pounds sugar
- 500 grams brown sugar (not raw sugar)
- 2 cups water (presumably 8 fl oz
cups, as this is from America)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cinnamon sticks
Beat (not sure what this means: pound
the skin to loosen the flesh and rind?), peel and dice the
chilacayote. Then place it in a large bowl, add the lime and cover
with water. Leave it overnight. The following day, wash and squeeze
it gently. Place sugar, cinnamon, water and salt in a saucepan
and bring to the boil, remove any scum that rises to the top.
Add the chilacayote and keep at a gently boil until it looks transparent
and the syrup is sticky. It takes around 6 hours. Serve cold.
It is usually served without syrup.
Another celebrated way of using Malabar
Gourd is in a sweetmeat called Cheveaux d'Ange. There are various
recipes floating around including the one that is more like a
flavoured honey and another that uses sugar. To prepare, cut the
flesh into small cubes and simmer them in boiling salted water
for about an hour. When they are tender, pour off the water and
refresh the cubes with plenty of cold water. Drain them when cold,
and place in a large bowl. Now stir them about with a fork, separating
the flesh into strands rather like spaghetti squash. (This can
now be mixed with mashed potato and baked in an oven with egg
and cheese topping.) For the flavoured honey, mix the flesh with
its own weight in honey (acacia for preference) and leave for
a day. Then simmer gently for about half an hour, until it is
golden in colour, and bottle. "This is the famous Cheveaux
d'Ange, once highly esteemed in Paris."
Weigh a good quantity of the flesh before
shredding it with a food processor and put it in a bowl with its
own weight in sugar. Leave it for an hour, to draw out the juices.
Put flesh, sugar and juice in a pan and cook for about 10 minutes,
or until the shredded pumpkin is very soft. Add 5 to 15 ml of
orange blossom water for each 500 gram of pumpkin. Serve sprinkled
with chopped pistachio nuts and double cream or mascarpone.
From Future Foods
small independent mail order supplier specialising in rare and unusual edible plants.