One of the most important crops of all time is one you’ve never eaten. It’s the strange, inedible gourd, one of the first plants ever cultivated, and grown worldwide. Inedible it may be, but it’s a kitchen in itself. When mature it develops a hard shell, hollow inside except for the dried inner parts and seeds. With all that scooped out, gourds can be used as bowls for eating, cups for drinking, crocks, bins and bottles for storing, baskets for gathering, sieves for straining, pitchers for pouring. They’re made into spoons, ladles, dippers, saltshakers, funnels, measuring cups. You can even cook with them, not by putting them over a fire, but by filling them with liquid, then hot stones. They’re much lighter than pots and pans, glassware and china; they’re durable; and they’re free. They grow in the garden.
Gourds do garden work as well. Ancient gatherers scooped soil with them to unearth roots. Andean farmers still use a round gourd as a wheel for a wooden wheelbarrow. Seeds have long been stored in them. Livestock have eaten grain and drunk water from gourd troughs. African fishermen have used their buoyancy to float nets and have tossed fish into floating gourd creels. The Chinese have kept crickets in gourd cages. Hunters have carried them as powder horns or used them as duck blinds. Submerged in a marsh beneath a floating gourd they could peer through holes as their prey paddled within snatching distance.