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"On the Obtaining and Preparation of a Water Gourd" by Lady Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA. A series of articles on various crafts and medieval life written in first-person style.  This is number 2 of 11 articles in this series.


NOTE: See also the files: pilgrimages-msg, bev-water-msg, lea-bottles-msg, gourds-msg, drinkng-strws-msg, wood-finishes-msg, travel-msg, religion-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org



"On the Obtaining and Preparation of a Water Gourd"

by Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA


   As the harvest season is now upon us, now is the time one should best seek out a suitable purchase of a water-gourd to take upon thy journey.


   Though there well may be water to be had along thy way, still there will be times when there is not, and you have need to clear the dust of the road from your throat.  Regardless you must needs be aware tis wiser to have upon you a means of transport for such water as you may need, especially as you journey deeper into the lands of the Spainiards where water will not be so readily at hand.


   Tis true, that you also have a choice of vessel of that made by the harness-maker(1) or the potter.(2)  For the former, I will give you instruction at a later time, for if you choose to prefer that means, and can find no other, then that is next most to my suggestion, and can still be arranged for, at a later time, most easily.   As to a vessel of the potter, I would not, at all, reccommend it, since you have said to me that you would travel afoot....the fruit of the potter is such that it's suited more to the horse or the home hearth than to a young woman's added burdeon on a long-footed journey.


   So for now, I must speak to you of the purchase of a suitable vessel that is well-best of God's crafting and well He hath made it with careful thought to the needs of the Pilgrim upon his holy road, for so perfect is it's design that it is best suited to no other purpose than to easily contain that which it need hold.


   Unlike the bottle of clay, it is much lighter to carry, and though it also may break, if dropped heavily upon unforgiving stone, empty it is far less vulnerable, and will even float upon the water, and even if some water is contained yet within it.  Because of it's lighter nature, it is most fortunate luck, or most careful of God's planning, that it grows to so perfect a size, as well as a shape, to easily contain only as much as you are likely to need between opportunities for it's re-filling.


   Search well at Fall harvest for such as you'll need.  It should have a height of no more than the length of your arm from wrist to elbow (3) but only about that, not much more and not much less.  Small enough to carry with ease, large enough to carry for need.  


   It should be of the variety as to have a neck (4) the length of the neck is of little importance for the tying, but is best not to have more than the breadth of three fingers for the use of, as too long a neck(5), makes for almost impossible proper cleaning out, and lining if you choose to.


   If the gourd has been allowed to lay afield long enough for the vine to totally wither, and the wet and dry of the weather to do it's job so that the green skin hath molded naturally, dried, and dropped mostly away, leaving the hard moldy golden fruit behind, and the seeds with-in much to rattle hollowly when shaken, then that is the best to find, as it will save you much work of scrapeing and drying near the hearth, or by the sun-facing door-way.  If the fruit be green, and you can locate none-other kind in the marketplace, then feel it all over for spots of softness, and pass it by, in search of another, for these you do not want in your vessel, and if the merchant should tell you that the spots will harden then take your coin to another merchant, for this one seeks only to lighten your purse while ridding himself of rotted fruit, for a proper one must needs feel firm where ever you touch, for even a place of sleight softness is a sign of weakness and not to be born.


   Upon your return home from the market, the gourd should be rolled, or dunked, in a pot of boiling water, to soften the shin for easy removal.  After it has been allowed to cool for the handling, one must scrape off all the skin with the blade of a short knife, such as one is wont to use in the kitchen for the peeling of fruits and vegetables, then leave it in a sunny window sill to dry, for the shell is still porous and the inside still moist for such is the condition of all fruits when newly ripe.  


   As it dries, you shall see the moisture seep through to the surface, you can wipe it daily, to discourage the molding which will occure if you do not, or just leave it alone to dry before returning to it, letting the mold it will surely grow, run it's course. The drying will take several weeks to a month or more, depending on the moisture in the weather, though you should protect it from the rain.


   When it is completely dry and you can hear the seeds with-in when you shake it, roll it once more atop a pot of boiling water, and while still wet, rub it most vigorously with a rough wetted cloth, dipped in salt if you have some to spare, until most all signs of the dappled mold are removed, re-rolling it in the pot as necessary, as it will dry quickly from the heat.


   When you are well-satisfied that it is as mold-free as ought you can make it, then should you deem it ready for the making of a proper bottle.  Snap off the remaining stem, and determining there the hole which you will have made with the cutting of a shart knife.  This should be about the width to hold two fingers, but not three, unless thy fingers are quite slender.  Use the knife to round all the edges of the cut, and burnish them rounder still with firm rubbing of a river pebble, and use this also to burnish the outside all over the bottle, or you may use some stalks of scour-rush(6).   These will impart a glowing sheen to your bottle, which is most pleasing.


   Empty of it, through the neck opening, such seed and dry membeanes as will tumble from the neck with out effort beyond a shaking, and when no more will venture willingly forth, obtain  a slender growth of tree-branching as at a fork in a sycamore maple(7) is wont to have, cutting below the fork, then cutting one stem of the fork to about a thumb's tip length, creating a hook at the base of the other stem, the length of which should be no more longer than from your fingertips to your elbow, and the width about that of a tooth with-in your mouth.


     With this tool you may go fishing within the gourd for dried pulp and seeds to work them loose from their moorings and pull them out most easily, but with persistance.  When you've removed what you can in this manner, drop within the gourd several small clean pebbles, and swirl them most happily around within it so that they contact and loosen additional pulp and seeds...pour it out and it will mostly rain out in small flakes.  Replace the pebbles each time and spin them.DO NOT shake them!; as I did learn the hard way when first I did this myself, without adequate instruction...to shake them vigorously is to invite certain destruction of that which you wish to remain intact, as with sufficient pounding with-in will most certainly result in cracking with-out and the need to search out another if such can be found, so late in the season.


     Save the seeds, in a sealed container of pottery, to protect from mice over the winter, and have them sown in your own garden before leaving on your journey in the Spring.  They will produce most pleasing vines and yellow flowers and similar fruit such as you'll have no need to ever make purchase of again, and which is most useful about the home.


     When you've removed what you can, in the above manners, pour into the opening some of the boiling waters and add once more your pebbles.  Allowing all to set shortly, before swirling all to spin the pebbles once more.  Be sure to have the boiling water make contact with all the inner surfaces, to kill whatever molds may lurk there.  Let it cool, and spin the pebbles once more, before pouring out.  After this, you need only to fill with cool water, to the brim, everyday, pouring most off every morn, spinning the pebbles, and then pouring out the rest, retaining the pebbles, before adding more cool water.   Each morning you will find fresh bits of pulp floated to the top, for several days. The purpose, of course, is to remove all lingering bit of the bitter pulp, and after this to keep leeching other bitterness out of the body of the fruit, that would make the water later carried in it quite undrinkable.  With enough time and patience in repeating this process, your gourd will eventually keep the sweetness of all it contains.  When you can no-longer smell the acrid scent, then taste the water to determine if it hath yet yielded it's bitter to the sweet, if not, keep replacing fresh waters daily until it does.  When you are well-satisfied this is so, I would still do a few more days changing just to be sure.


   You should then turn the gourd over, in such a way as to allow air to come into it, but curious mice not to.  If possible, position it over a spike or hook, or over a stick placed in a bowl of sand, to allow any excess water to drain, and the whole to dry.


   As to whether or not to seal it within, the choice remains your own to make. I have done both, and each hath it's merits.


   If you are concerned for the future return of the earlier bitterness, and not satisfied with it's leaving, then you may wish to seal the inside with a goodly coating of waxes of the bee. (but do not attempt this until the whole of thy gourd is well dry, for the wax will not adhere properly within) In preparation you should warm the gourd well in the sun, or by the hearth.  And with a pot containing the waxes placed with in a larger pot, perhaps a skillet, part-filled with water, carefully melt til it is well hot and fluid.  Then, with great care, pour it into the gourd, and turn that well in every direction, making sure to coat all surfaces well within and to the very brim edge, and then pour the rest back into the warming pot.  You can repeat this with more melted wax, to be sure, as you wish.  


   Any remaining wax, you can dip the tip of a cloth into, and rub it well into the outside of the gourd to add to it's pebble-burnished sheen.  But do not do this yet, if by chance you have plans to burn a decoration of some manner into the outer surface.  If so, I would advise thee to do this first, before any addition of wax within, or with out.


   If you choose not to seal it thus, there is one advantage in that the waters you carry will tend to be of a cooler nature, as some little, hardly of noticable loss, will seep throughthe rind as you travel, thereby cooling that within to some small measure, and this is of a thing you may want to consider as the lands of the Spainards can be most hot in the season, so as you loose little in the travel, you gain at the time of thirst.


   When all else is  completed with the fruit, turn you now to a stopper for it's mouth.  The easiest is nought but a handful of sweet dry grasses, gathered together, with a cord, bent at the tying place, and placed down into the neck of the gourd, adding more if needed, to make a slightly snug fit, but not too snug, as the waters contained within the bottle will surely wet the grasses, and swell them to make the fit more securely.  Tie them once more, above the opening, and leave some above that to allow for grasping with thy hand, to with-draw it, at times of thirst or filling.  Cut these evenly, about a thumb's length above the opening.  This is most easily replaced as needed, but should last you the length  of your journey, with mayhaps only the occassional addition of more grasses.


   With this said, I must once again make closure on another lengthy missive, and begin to gather my thoughts for the writing of the next one.  In the meantime, I hope this reaches you in time to make the purchase of your bottle.   In the next one, I will most probably tell you of the making of a leather vessel, for if the gourds are not to be had near you, you will need to look well into the having of a leather one, as I still will spare you the weight of a clay one to bear.


   Be well my dearest, and as always, my prayers are with you.





(1)leather pilgrims bottles :


Waterer, John W. :  

"Leather Craftsmanship"

G. Bell & Sons, Ltd.

London, Eng. 1968

ill. 93, 94' 96


(2) pottery bottles :


Starkey, David

"Henry VIII"

Cross River Press, N.Y. 1991

ill. # II.22


Bourguet, Pierre M.

"The Art of the Copts"

Holle Verlag Gmbh.

Baden Baden, Germany  1967

Fig. 17


(3) length/height of gourd :

                    misc. illumination sources


(4) gourd type to use :  'lump-in-neck', 'chinese bottle', 'indonesian'

   and 'purple martin gourds'  


One source for dried gourds is:

Lena Braswell Gourd Farm

Rte. 1, box 73

Wrens, Ga. 30833


(5)indonesian gourd


(6)scour rush /pewterwort/field hosetail ( Equisetum arvense L.)


(7)Sycamore maple (Acre pseudoplatanus) Sugar maple (Acre saccharum)



Copyright 2000 by R.D. Wertz. <windsingersmoon at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org