Dudi or bottle gourd

Dudi or bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) has wonderfully varied shaped fruits.  Known as calabashes, the mature gourds are hardwearing, decorative and waterproof.  You can grown your water carrier, musical instrument or decorative centre piece. But if you pick and eat them when young, you have a delicious vegetable, not unlike a courgette which has retained its crunch.

The dudi plant is a vigorous trailing or climbing vine with white flowers and hard-skinned fruits that are edible when young. In the West, dudi is cultivated as an ornamental gourd, so popular cultivars have spectacular necked or swollen fruit shapes, rather than eating qualities.   In the East and in parts of Africa, dudi is a valuable food source so the long thin cultivars, similar in shape to a large marrow, are preferred, being easiest to prepare. The young plant shoots are sometimes eaten in curries. There is a limited range of cultivars around in the UK but seeds sold as ‘Calabash Gourd’ or ‘Snake Gourd’ are probably dudis.

How to grow

  • Sow two seeds to a10cm/4in pot of general-purpose compost in May, in the airing cupboard or in a propagator. Discard the weaker seedling. They need at least 18°C /65°F to germinate but will emerge quicker if the temperature is higher.
  • Dudi isn’t fussy about soil. In fact a less fertile plot is an asset because it restricts the vigour of the vine which can grow over 4m (12ft).  The best place to grow a dudi is in full sun, sheltered from strong winds. Like courgettes or pumpkins they need to be started off indoors and transplanted when all danger of frosts is past. Plant in a trench lined with half-decayed leafmould or plenty of compost, as you might for runner beans. And like beans, they need a stout framework made of posts no thinner than 5cm x 5cm/2 x 2in. 
  • Harden the plants off as soon as they have two or three true leaves, and plant out once the temperature outside is warm enough. If nights are cool shortly after transplanting, cover the young plants with horticultural fleece or even newspaper. Established plants are surprisingly resistant to cold once they’ve got their roots down.
  • Regular watering in dry weather is vital, as the large leaf area becomes dehydrated rapidly in hot sun.

How to eat
Pick dudi when young and tender (15-18cm/6-8in long), and keep picking to produce new fruits, just like a courgette plant. Unlike a courgette, however, they retain a crunch even when cooked. They will store in the salad tray in the fridge for about a week to ten days but are best eaten fresh. Fruits become tough and inedible when mature, and once a plant has set a single fruit which has ripened, it will die: so if you want to have seeds for next year, you will need to set an extra plant to grow seed rather than for eating.
Use in curries, stir fries or soups. Or simply cut into cubes, boil and mash with butter, herbs and spices.

For a full list of multicultural vegetables see here. They all come from our innovative Sowing New Seeds and Growing From Your Roots projects, when Garden Organic worked with allotment holders of Indian, South American, East Asian, Afro Caribbean and African extraction.