The Wonderous Luffa

by Katharyn Privett-Duren

Every year, I attempt to plant zucchini and squash. Every year, I fail miserably. As an organic gardener—with strict rules and regulations on what that actually means—I find that the squash bugs and borers love nothing more than to watch me plan, seed, and nurture these plants. Somewhere, they are all rubbing their little hands together now in utter delight at the notion of my naivete, my tenacious spirit, and are planning for dinners at my house come spring.

While I have finally found a pumpkin (the Seminole) that can resist their veracious appetites, as well as a squash (certain Butternut varieties) that refuses to concede to their armies: I lost the battle every time with zucchini. I still do.

My southern neighbors, on the other hand, are throwing them out of windows to livestock and unsuspecting mail carriers every spring. Alas, I will not spray and dust my babies and am therefore doomed to a life without zucchini in my roasted ratatouille. (Well, I have caved to these poisoned vegetables from time to time, although my guilt is real.) Every year, one or two will produce themselves in long, green glory. And then? I find myself questioning my organic nature as I hurl rotted, wilted plants into the compost pile.

It seemed I was doomed–until I grew luffa. Ah, the wonderous luffa!

When young, its taste and texture is similar to zucchini. When it’s old, these fibrous scrubbies can handle everything from your crusty pots to worn farmer feet. It’s a win/win. These are best harvested just as they turn a bit yellow, especially if removing squash flesh isn’t your idea of fun, then soaked in a bit of soapy water and vinegar before drying and gifting. Best of all: they are squash bug and borer resistant. And that, my friends, is the best news of all. 

We have seen them grow into our oaks, some thirty feet into the air. When they begin to fall apart from too many scrubs, simply throw them to the compost. After all, they are food! Harvested before the first freeze, these squashes are the perfect addition to any garden. More, they are squeal-worthy Yule gifts alongside a homemade goat soap or two. 

The Process:

Watch for the yellowing of the skin. Pick these luffas first; then strip the outer flesh. Shake out any excess seed (the rest can be removed when dry) and cut into your favorite length. Long ones are wonderful for an anti-scratch car wash, while shorter ones are perfect for the dishes. When dry, remove the rest of the seeds with a hard shake or tweezers. Fun addition: lash on a wooden paddle for a homemade back scrubber.

Other Uses:

Here at the first freeze (or even earlier): remove all young and slender luffa from the vine.  Freeze or dehydrate for winter meals. These can seamlessly replace zucchini, so think ratatouille, soups, or even pickles! Our personal favorite is stir-fry. Luffa dehydrates marvelously, so consider a few jars for breads, toppings for rice, and the occasional addition to a frittata, an obvious choice for representing the return of the sun at Winter Solstice.

Yule Frittata

Six large fresh eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ to 1 cup cheese of your choice (smoked gouda, mozzarella, cheddar)*
½ cup dehydrated squash (zucchini, luffa, yellow crookneck) * *
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch tarragon (or thyme, basil, chive—your choice)
Half stick of real butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk eggs, cream, and seasonings together. Gently incorporate dehydrated vegetables and let come to room temperature (this process will assure rehydration, as well as assure cooking quality of eggs.) Stir in cheese. Pour butter into cast iron or any oven-safe skillet and preheat for one full minute. Finally, carefully pour egg mixture (aiming for the center) into preheated skillet.

Bake until firm in the middle, between 20-25 minutes depending upon your oven and your altitude. Let set at least ten minutes before serving.

Serve with sour cream, hollandaise, salsa, or any other side of your choice. 

*How much do you love cheese? 

**Measurements depend on your love of squash, so increase at will. If using fresh, use 1 cup of shredded and well-drained squash. If using butternut or other meaty squash, roast or pan fry until lightly brown and drain. If adding any additions (such as mushrooms, tomatoes, onions), use less, accordingly.

Cook’s Note: Lightly sautéed onions and mushrooms (perhaps with a touch of white wine deglazing) are wonderful additions or substitutions. We have also included dehydrated tomato flakes—which is simply fantastic. Whisk into egg mixture just before pouring into pan and Voila! The return of the sun in the depths of winter.

Eat well!

photo credit: public domain photo from New York Public Library