Upo – Italian cucuzzi, calabash gourd, club gourd
Upo belongs to the family of bottle gourds but I know only of the elongated type. There are two varieties actually that I grow up with, one with light green in color and one with a variegated skin coloring, dark green with specks of white. I have seen some that are rounded in shape but it is not a popular variety.
In my research, I found that upo or gourd is one of the vegetables that have been cultivated in pre-Colombian times. I guess, because of the hardness of the shell when it is dried, it will even float in the ocean for a long time and the seeds will still be well-preserved because it is waterproof. That is why they can make birdhouses and other ornamental stuffs from the dried empty shell. In Japan, I have seen some old bottle gourds that are used as water carrier in the past. It may have originated in Mexico or Egypt but because we have been in the Spanish rule for a long time, I am sure that we got the seeds from the Spanish settlers in the Philippines.
To plant this vegetable, choose a sunny location. Prepare the soil with lots of amendments like compost and manure and maybe a little bit of sand to help with the drainage. It likes moist conditions but not soggy. Because the plant grows in a vine and the fruits will be heavy, it needs a sturdy trellis. We make trellis or arbor out of bamboos in my hometown. Sow 2-3 seeds in a hill 1-2 inches deep in the soil directly where you want it to grow. In two months, white flowers will appear and the fruit will follow (assuming the bees did their job of pollinating the flowers) and be ready to be harvested 60 -70 days after planting. (The female flowers will have a form of a small gourd on the base and normally opens at dusk.) Some farmers like my Uncle Efren covers the fruits with old newspapers to prevent fruit flies from attacking the gourds.
My Mom has a variety of recipes using upo. But my favorite is the sautéed upo with pork and shrimp. Sometimes, we use it as a substitute for green papaya in chicken tinola and other soup recipes.
Not only upo is delicious, it contains nutrients like iron, calcium and phosphorus and a good source of Vitamin B.