Using properly cured and prepared gourds for food and water storage is an ancient practice of Native Americans, who used the indigenous plant as a versatile and easily transportable container. While most dried gourds are destined to be painted as decorative items or for use as a birdhouse, cleaning a gourd and preparing it to be used as a food or water container is relatively simple. Unless you grow and cure them yourself--which can take six months to a year--it is easiest to purchase a gourd that has already been cured. Well-cured gourds are either laid out on ventilated pallets or allowed to dry in the field for several months until all internal moisture has evaporated, leaving behind only the hardened shell and seeds.
Cutting the Gourd
Inspect the exterior of the gourd and decide where you will make the cut. Narrow, oblong-shaped gourds can be cut along the lengthwise axis to create two trough-like containers; very round gourds may be cut exactly in half to create two bowls of roughly the same size; goose-necked gourds with skinny necks and wider bottoms may become a bottle.
Begin making your cut by lightly scoring the outside of the gourd around its circumference. You may wish to trace your line with a marker to help guide the cut.
Repeat the cutting process, gradually deepening the line until the entire rind has been pierced through. Cured gourds can be very tough and the cutting process may take several passes. If it is available, a table saw is a more efficient alternative for cutting a gourd through; if you choose to use a saw, wear a dust mask, as gourd dust can irritate breathing passages.
Cleaning and Sealing the Gourd
Remove the dried seeds and the remnants of seed casing threads in the interior of the gourd.
Polish the gourd’s interior by scraping with a spoon for a first rough finish, then by lightly rubbing with steel wool or another abrasive material. Narrow-necked gourds can be effectively cleaned by pouring a handful of gravel inside, shaking vigorously and emptying.
Heat an oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the gourd inside. This process opens up the gourd’s pores and is necessary for effective wax sealing.
Melt a block of paraffin wax to prepare to seal the interior surface. As soon as the wax is completely melted, remove the gourd from the oven, and, quickly but thoroughly, paint the inner surface of the gourd with wax. Apply two or three additional coats of wax, allowing the gourd to cool completely between coats. The gourd will not need to be heated in the oven again after the initial coat of wax.
The process for narrow-necked gourds is different: wax must be poured in, shaken around to coat the interior, and the excess poured out before the paraffin hardens again.
Varnish or paint the exterior of the gourd, if desired, by rubbing a wood varnish onto the surface of the fruit. Varnishes and paints help seal out moisture, giving the gourd a longer useful life. An alternative is to use a layer of paraffin wax on the surface, which also seals out moisture, but gives no interesting visual effect.