GOURD CANTEENS: We discovered it was impossible to find seeds for Birdhouse gourds locally from any of the usual retail outlets that carry seeds, though we have since learned they can be gotten from almost any mail-order seed company.
Bill Potter sent us the following, which has been paraphrased slightly and expanded upon. It came from the American Gourd Society, Box 274, MT. Gilead, Ohio, 43338.
SO, YOUR GOURDS ROTTED: OR DID THEY? Freshly harvested gourds with all their beauty and color are approximately 90% water. This sounds like perfect rotting conditions, but it is not so. On the other hand, we know of no positive way to preserve the natural beauty of freshly harvested gourds for a long period of time. The design and color is in the skin, as they dehydrate or dry the colors fade and begin to turn brown. Yes, they often mold but seldom rot.
Handle your gourds gently, and put them in a dry, out of the way place. If they shrivel, toss them out, but if they mold, just have patience for a few months. Wipe off excess mold now and then.
When they are featherlight and the seeds rattle, give them a soaking bath in warm water, scrape off the outer skin and mold with a knife, rub with fine steel wool, dry with a rag, and set aside. When the gourds are very dry, sand lightly.
An easier way to cure gourds in cold areas of the country is to just leave them outside on the trellis to freeze, or put them on a wire rack where they can freeze and have air circulating about them. When dry spring days come most of the skin loosens and cleaning is easy. However, the designs created by the mold will be missing and the seeds will not germinate well.
Mary and I tried the latter approach last year with five birdhouse gourds we bought at a farmer's market. Two shriveled and were no good. The other three dried very well, and we made canteens from two of them. The last one was huge, and we intend to make a basket from it. None of the seeds recovered from the gourds dried this way were viable.
To make a canteen, start by getting a cork or other tapered plug of about a 1" diameter. Trace the outline of the small end onto the top of the gourd, then using a small drill bit, drill a series of holes on the inside of the line to perforated the top, making it easy to break out the hole. I would expect a hole saw would work fine, but don't use one of those flat "spade" bit for large holes in wood, as it will tear the gourd to bits. Don't finish the hole, yet.
Check the opening for thin spots. If it looks weak, start over with another gourd. At this point you have very little time invested.
When you look into the hole you will see the inside is filled with spongy, fibrous material. This all has to come out. I used the same tool I use to scrape the insides of powder horns when I make them. This is a curved metal bar, about 1/8" thick by 1/2" wide and a foot long with one end bent 90-o and sharpened to make a scraper. Start scraping. This will take awhile, and requires patience.
Once you have scraped out all you can, throw in a small handful of small, sharp pebbles, and shake, rattle and roll to polish the inside.
Return to the opening. Using a rat tail wood file, smooth out the edges of the hole until the cork barely makes it in. Wrap the cork with sandpaper and sand the opening by twisting the cork in the hole. This will make a smooth, polished hole that won't leak.
Melt some beeswax in a double boiler, or put some in a tin can, and put that in a pan of boiling water to melt. Beeswax is preferable to paraffin wax, because it helps flavor the water. It is better to start with much too much wax, as it will hold the heat longer and flow better. Preheat the gourd in the oven set to warm, which will ensure the wax will flow well to penetrate the interior and seal it. Pour it in, swirl it around, being careful to coat the entire inside, pour it out, and do all again. It will be HOT, so be careful!
You probably won't want to use this as your primary canteen. No matter how thorough you are, the water is still going to taste a bit like a gourd, but for a lightweight, low maintenance second supply of water for treks or for cooking, it beats a barrel or a wood canteen hands down.
Small gourds of other varieties -- even those tiny "decorative" gourds popular around thanksgiving -- can be dried and lend themselves to handy, lightweight containers for all sorts of things.
COTTON VS. LINEN. In an earlier article we discussed how to tell natural fabrics from synthetics using a burn test (Jan.'96). But how to tell linen from cotton? One way is with olive oil.
On a light colored fabric, such as the natural or white we often work with, place a drop of olive oil on a sample of the material, blot it in, then hold the sample over a dark background. If the spot appears translucent, the material is linen. If it is opaque, it is cotton. (Linton, p. 393)
THIS MONTH'S POSER comes from a member asking for documentation on women wearing belts with buckles. For example, it is not unusual to see a woman in our camp wearing a belt with a sheathed camp knife. Let's expand on the subject a little and ask about belts on both men and women, and what kind of fasteners may have been employed. How about buckle styles -- round, square, or "double D", brass or iron? What about laces or maybe even hooks?!
IF YOU have any information on any of the questions posed here or in earlier columns, have some tidbit to contribute, or are looking for help yourself, please write us at 1537 31st, Des Moines, IA, 50311 or contact us by e-mail at rbriggs @tpinc.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We can use your name or not, your choice.