Now, for the post. One of the very exciting things we have growing in our garden is a luffa. I have posted about it previously. In the comments of that post, a lot of you said you'd never heard of luffa before. I suspect that's true when I'm talking about the vegetable, for eating purposes. Most of you would be more familiar with the loofah, the bath sponge. Good for exfoliating, and completely plant-based.
They are closely related to zucchinis, pumpkins, and cucumbers, and grow very similarly, if a bit more vigorously. Our back fence is covered in the lush, green vine, and all summer we've been picking handfuls of the small fruits for eating. They are good stir fried, and added to stews and things like that.
We actually have three plants, one ridiculous and two which have struggled more. But even the struggle-y ones have produced loofahs, like this one here.
Once the fruit get a bit big, the fibres start to form, and they're no longer good for eating. So those ones we have left. They take a while, but eventually get mature enough to pick and turn into sponges. The process is actually ridiculously simple. The hardest part, for me, was knowing when to pick them. I read that you should let them get soft, but I tried a few like that and they weren't mature enough. Then I realised that they are firm when they are very young, they go soft as they grow, but then they firm back up again. I asked my neighbour, who gave me the seeds in the first place - the trick is to wait until they go a little yellow-brown. Size and firmness don't matter as much as this.
|Two sponge-sized loofahs, and four little food ones.|
Step one is to cut off the ends. This isn't a necessary step, but I find it easier to get the seeds out, and the end result is prettier.
|These black seeds are mature and can be saved to plant next year.|
Once they're peeled, rinse out the seeds and gunky bits. I've used the hose for this, but the laundry sink is easier. My method is to stick my finger in and scoop out as much as possible. If some seeds stay in, it's no big deal, but too much gunk will make them go mouldy (as I learned from experience). They are pretty flexible, so you can squeeze them and bend them a bit at this point to wring out as much loofah-gunk as possible.
Then I squeeze most of the water out, and find them a sunny spot. Let them hang out and dry for a few days, until they have no moisture left.
I think these make fancy gifts for people - look, I made you a sponge! But they also work well, cut into smaller bits, for washing dishes. We have plenty more to harvest, so we probably won't need to buy sponges again for a long time.
Sure, most discussions of "locavorisim" refer to the food we actually consume, but I think growing my own dish-washing sponges is pretty damn cool.