DIPPER GOURDS - Household Crafts and Tips: The Foxfire Americana Library - Foxfire Students

Household Crafts and Tips: The Foxfire Americana Library - Foxfire Students (2011)


In the past, many people found that the gourd could be used in different and useful ways. They used gourds to make holders for women’s sewing notions, to store lye soap after it was made, and as small types of bowls or dishes for decoration or to put odds and ends in. One of the best uses of the gourd was as a dipper at the well or in the house for drinking purposes.

The scientific name for a dipper gourd is Cucuribita foetidissima (perennis) and a couple of its common names are calabash and siphon gourd.

Not very long ago Suzy set up an interview with Lawton Brooks who grows his own gourds and had said he would cut us out a dipper gourd when we came. I was really glad I was involved with what went on that afternoon; the main reason being that it was my first visit to Florence and Lawton’s, and I just enjoyed spending that part of the day with them. When Suzy and I arrived there, we talked awhile as Suzy has known them for a long time. Then we discussed the process of growing gourds. We went on out on the front porch while Lawton talked and made the gourd into a dipper. In an hour or so, we ended up with the gourd finished and ready to be used for drinking.


LAWTON: Gourds’re a thing that has to be planted early, but if frost touches them, it’ll kill’em. You’ve got to get a gourd planted early. Now the way I get mine, and the best way I think to do this is to plant’em the last of March in pots. And then they come up in them pots; well, when they come up, they’ll just grow up a long stem in the shade and two little ol’ leaves will grow up about [six inches] high. But just let’em alone and then you take them out there and you can transplant them. You can set’em out wherever you want to, when you think there ain’t going to be any more danger of frost. Now down at [Suzy’s] place, you’ve got a perfect place ’cause you’re nearly at the frost line. It wouldn’t hit that way like here in these low places, ’cause you’re just about above the frost line. And if you get down there, you can grow’em; you’ve just got to grow some next year. I’m gonna pot a bunch of’em for you. Pick you a good place and I’ll come help you put up your wires; I’ll get your wire. You just furnish the place, and me and you’ll grow us a bunch of gourds.

ILLUSTRATION 35 Lawton Brooks offered to show us how to make a dipper out of a gourd.

ILLUSTRATION 36 The gourds themselves ripening on a fence in Happy Dowdle’s back yard.

ILLUSTRATION 37 Lawton first chooses where the hole is to be cut, and then rings the spot with a pencil line.

ILLUSTRATION 38 Starting in the center of the penciled circle, he begins to cut through the gourd’s shell with his pocketknife.

ILLUSTRATION 39 Slowly he trims down to the line itself.

ILLUSTRATION 40 Next he scrapes out the spongy inside and the seeds, and saves the seeds to plant next spring.

ILLUSTRATION 41 Then he trims up the edge …

ILLUSTRATION 42 … files it smooth …

ILLUSTRATION 43 … and goes to the sink to try it out.

They like a pretty good soil. They like a little clay in their soil but they need pretty good soil to grow. Manure’s good [for fertilizer]; just regular ol’ stable stuff.

They have to have support to [grow specifically into a dipper gourd]. If they lay on the ground, they’re liable to grow in just any direction. [A fence for support] wouldn’t have to be too high if you just keep the vine up on the fence. You know how they took to my clothesline up here—they’ll just go from one to another, and they’ll get around. [The gourds] just tie themselves to a fence or anything they can climb. Wherever the vine touches, it attaches itself. Then it goes a little further and ties itself again. You’ll have to break them loose, because they’ve done tied themselves—the wind won’t blow’em down.

Sometimes a vine will blight, but not bad enough to hurt. I’ve never had any insects bother me. If them ol’ gourds stay there and they mash down into the ground, the seeds will come up in another year volunteer. They’ll mix if you get’em too close to the cucumbers—it’ll be so bitter you can’t eat’em. Now I tried that out. I had my gourds on the lower part of my fence. And my cucumbers were way up here, but the vine runs down that way, y’know, and they didn’t go all the way to the gourds. Anyway, we couldn’t use them cucumbers; they was the most bitter things I ever ate. They was the prettiest cucumbers, but we couldn’t eat’em. They were so bitter we just let them lay there. It didn’t bother the gourds. It’ll make the cucumbers bitter-like; cross pollination is why it happened. I don’t know about squash; I never tried them.

You ought not to plant [the gourds] any closer than six foot apart. That gives them a chance to go one way and the other, or cross over each other. [Just plant them] along the edge of the fence; they’ll take a runner and go by and hit something, anything, and climb it. Now this man that raised them in Atlanta gave me this gourd here. He planted one by his woodshed and out in a field he laid him a pole in the fork of the apple tree, and that thing went right on up the apple tree and crossed over to the other one and filled’em both up. They was hanging that close together. By gosh, I bet my pick-up [truck] could of been filled up twice. That’s the prettiest sight I ever seen in my life from that vine. That goes to show you there would have been about a thousand if it all would have been counted. So you can’t tell how many you’ll have; it’s according to how they get started, and how they turn out, and the season they get planted.

It takes them a long while to mature and get ready for the frost; frost keeps’em from rotting. Just let them hang till it frosts on them, or two or three good frosts. That hardens their shell better. Now [that man in Atlanta] hadn’t picked his [gourds] till ’long in the winter and them apple trees was hanging full.

Leave about three inches shank [when you pick them]; break it off near the vine and leave the rest on the gourd. When you pick’em, you should set’em in a dry, cool place, in the air. Let them settle one or two months, and the seeds get hard and everything. They should be dry enough to rattle. When he gets dried out good and hard, then you can make your dippers. They’re green growing, but turn kind of yellow when mature.

There’s a type gourd they call a martin gourd. This is for the martin bird. They’ve got another great big one they call a half-bushel gourd. They grow more like a pumpkin. The old folks used to use’em around the house to put something in them for a waste basket or a sewing basket. They’d use the big gourd for it. Just cut the top off and clean’em out. It makes a good one; they’d last from now on. Just like a dipper would last from now on. Old people, when they made their lye soap, they’d use them to make their soap in and store it. And they’ve got a blamed gourd they make a dish out of. It grows kinda like a dish and it’s got a ring around it. You cut out the ring and that ring makes a lid.