A tree native to Central and South America and one that frequently grows to 30 feet tall, the calabash is often cultivated in modern gardens as far north as Florida for the sake of ornament, but has been valued in the Yucatan for hundreds of years for the fruit it produces.
The large, rounded pieces of fruit, which themselves can be as large as 20 inches in diameter, may be plucked and dried out to be used as bowls, cups, scoops or water jugs, while the fruit’s pulp has historically been used medicinally for the treatment of respiratory illnesses. Over time, practicality was displaced by artistry and the tree’s fruit was increasingly carved, dyed and decorated, used for specific occasions, given as gifts and even made into instruments.
Here in the Yucatan we still use the resilient shell of the fruit, which resembles a carved piece of wood when fully dried. When not being used as a canteen, we cut the fruit in half, dry the pieces, and use them as serving pieces. Known as jicaras in Mexico and lecs throughout the Yucatan, they are perfect for serving hot food. At Petac, we like to use them for serving tortillas to guests or for displaying the beautiful flowers that grow throughout the Hacienda.