Mountain folk are an ingenious lot known for making the very most of the items around them, often re-purposing things to produce remarkably efficient machines and tools. Though their tenacity and ability to use just about everything they see for a greater purpose is often to the scorn of outsiders, the reality is that such feats of engineering showcase the incredible brainpower that is quietly tucked away in the hills and hollers of Appalachia.
While early settler families were rich in love, strength and perseverance, they were often very poor in money and earthly treasures.
In the 19th century, many Appalachian families were so poor they could not even afford basic utensils, including water dippers.
Not to worry, the settlers of the mountains resorted to a timeless trick — growing gourds for the purpose of using them for water ladles.
In the 1800s, it was not an uncommon thing for houses to have a gourdvine growing along a fence for the sole purpose of providing additional utensils for the family. The long-handled gourds would serve as “gourd-dippers”, while flat bottomed gourds could serve as a stand-in when cups were scarce.
Many Appalachian residents became very talented in the art “manipulating a gourd”, the practice of tying a string around the plant in order to change its growth pattern to suit one’s planned use of the plant.
Always superstitious, most residents of the mountains would refuse to pull a green gourd — they were supposed to pull a gourd when it was “plumb dry-ripe”.
If a person pulled a green gourd, “it ‘uld witch ye sure…”, writes Richard Chase.
The practice of using gourd dippers continued well into the 1900s in many parts of the Appalachia; however, in modern days, this ancient relic has quickly been forgotten.
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