Morning name: calabash

My “morning name” a few days ago: calabash. Probably primed by this soup entry on the menu at the Palo Alto restaurant Reposado:

SOPA DE CALABAZA DE TEMPORADA: Roasted butternut squash, chipotle, hoja santa crema, toasted pumpkin seeds

Following Spanish calabaza will lead us to two quite different sets of calabash plants and their products. Yes, I will eventually get to Calabasas CA and to “Good night, Mrs. Calabash”.

Calabaza. From Wikipedia:

Calabaza (West Indian pumpkin) is “a large winter squash (Cucurbita moschata) that resembles a pumpkin and is typically grown in the West Indies and tropical America.” The term is also used loosely for a variety of gourds from Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.

The word calabaza is derived from the Persian term for melon (kharbuz). The French term “calabasse”, and hence the English “calabash”, is based on the older Spanish.

The article reports variant uses of calabaza and calabash in different areas.

On Cucurbita moschata, the butternut squash of the Reposado menu, from Wikipedia:

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata), also known in Australia and New Zealand as butternut pumpkin, is a type of winter squash. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. It has yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp. When ripe, it turns increasingly deep orange, and becomes sweeter and richer. It grows on a vine.


On the larger taxon, the genus Cucurbita, from Wikipedia, with a nomenclatural passage boldfaced:

Cucurbita (Latin for gourd) is a genus in the gourd family Cucurbitaceae. It is native to the Andes and Mesoamerica, and was first cultivated in those regions. Some Cucurbita species were brought to Europe after the discovery of America and are now used in many parts of the world. The plants, referred to as squash, pumpkin, or gourd depending on species, variety, and local parlance, are grown for their edible fruits and seeds. Plants in the Cucurbita genus are important sources of human food, beverages, medicine, and oil. Other kinds of gourd, also called bottle-gourds, are native to Africa and belong to the genus Lagenaria, which is in the same family and subfamily as Cucurbita but in a different tribe. These gourds are used as utensils or vessels.

On the bottle gourd, from Wikipedia:

The bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria …, also known as opo squash, or long melon, is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable, or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe [the famous calabash pipe]. The fresh fruit has a light green smooth skin and a white flesh. Rounder varieties are called calabash gourds. They come in a variety of shapes: they can be huge and rounded, small and bottle shaped, or slim and serpentine, more than a metre long. Gourds are often called “calabashes”, but this is incorrect; calabashes (Crescentia cujete) are the fruit of the tree, while gourds (Lagenaria) grow on vines. See Sally Price, “When is a calabash not a calabash” (New West Indian Guide 56:69-82, 1982). [This stipulates how calabash should be used, but this runs counter to the history of calabaza and calabash — applied first to gourds / squashes (vining plants) and their products, and then extended to the trees on the basis of the similarity, in appearance and use, of their fruits to the fruits of the vines.]

The gourd was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not primarily for food, but for use as a water container. The bottle gourd may have been carried from Africa to Asia, Europe and the Americas in the course of human migration, or by seeds floating across the oceans inside the gourd. It has been proved to be in the New World prior to the arrival of Columbus.

Some bottle gourds:


[Digression on the next higher taxon, the family Cucurbitaceae. The family includes not only the genus Cucurbita of gourds / squashes, but also (as just noted) the genus Lagenaria of bottle gourds (all of these sometimes referred to as calabashes) — but also the genus Cucumis, which embraces Cucumis melo (muskmelons and their relatives casabas, honeydews, cantaloupes, etc.) and Cucumis sativus (cucumbers), and the species Citrullus lanatus (watermelons).]

Crescentia. Now we leave the vines of the Cucurbitaceae and move to trees in the genus Crescentia, in particular the calabash tree Crescentia cujete. From Wikipedia:

Crescentia (calabash tree, huingo, krabasi, or kalebas) is a genus of six species of flowering plants in the family Bignoniaceae [far from the Cucurbitaceaea], native to southern North America, the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. The species are small trees growing to 10 m (35 ft) tall, and producing large spherical fruits, with a thin, hard shell and soft pulp, up to 25 cm (10 in) in diameter.

Fruits in the tree:


The husk — the “thin, hard, shell” surrounding  a Crescentia cujete fruit — is used to make small vessels for serving or drinking, often elaborately ornamented in the same way as bottle gourds.

Calabasas CA. On the city, from Wikipedia:

Calabasas (en: “Pumpkins”) is a city in Los Angeles County, California. It is located in the hills west of the San Fernando Valley and is in the northwest Santa Monica Mountains between Woodland Hills, Agoura Hills, West Hills, Hidden Hills and Malibu, California.

… It is generally accepted that the city name of Calabasas is derived from the Spanish calabaza meaning “pumpkin,” “squash,” or “gourd” (cf. with the word calabash). Some historians hold the theory that Calabasas is derived from the Chumash word calahoosa.

In honor of its namesake, the City of Calabasas and the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce hold an annual Pumpkin Festival in October, including carnival games, exhibits, demonstrations, and live entertainment.

Mrs. Calabash. And now Jimmy Durante. From Wikipedia:

James Francis “Jimmy” Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) was an Italian American singer, pianist, comedian, and actor. His distinctive clipped gravelly speech, New York accent, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and prominent nose helped make him one of America’s most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s.

… Durante’s radio show was bracketed with two trademarks: “Inka Dinka Doo” as his opening theme, and the invariable signoff that became another familiar national catchphrase: “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” For years Durante preferred to keep the mystery alive. One theory was that it referred to the owner of a restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, where Durante and his troupe had stopped to eat. He was so taken by the food, the service, and the chitchat he told the owner that he would make her famous. Since he did not know her name, he referred to her as “Mrs. Calabash”. Another idea was that it was a personal salute to his deceased first wife, Jeanne (Olsen) Durante, who died in 1943. “Calabash” might be a mangle of Calabasas, the California city where they made their home during the last years of her life. His friend and co-star, Candy Candido, (in an interview with “Speaking of Radio” in 1988), reported that he met the actual woman in Chicago when traveling with Durante, but was sworn to keep the secret.

At a National Press Club meeting in 1966 (broadcast on NBC’s Monitor program), Durante finally revealed that it was indeed a tribute to his wife. While driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, whose name she had loved. “Mrs. Calabash” became his pet name for her, and he signed off his radio program with “Good night, Mrs. Calabash.” He added “wherever you are” after the first year.

The small town was probably Calabash NC — which takes us back to the gourds. From Wikipedia:

Calabash is a small fishing town in Brunswick County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 1,786 at the 2010 census…. It prides itself as the “Seafood Capital of the World” because of the town’s “Calabash-Style” seafood restaurants. Calabash is part of the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area.

… Calabash was named after the gourds that grew in the region, which were used for drinking. Since the 1930s, Calabash has been known for its distinctive style of fried seafood, which has come to be known as “Calabash Style” Calabash style buffets are common in many eastern Carolina coastal towns.

“Follow the drinking gourd” — a song that seems to involve an allusion to the Big Dipper (in the shape of a drinking gourd) as a guide to direction-finding on the Underground Railway. (Richie Havens’s version here.) And an actual drinking gourd:


One Response to “Morning name: calabash”

  1. ntagn Says:

    Brava! Never before have i encountered such thoroughly delineated calabation!

    Also enjoyed the linguistic disparities highlighted on St. Valentine’s Day. :’)

    Take care

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