The Pompion is a spongy, orange-fleshed gourd with a neutral taste and a hard outer shell which can be dried and used as a container and sometimes for children toys. Pompions grow in warm, damp areas, inlcuding most areas of central Sarvonia, in particular the Santharian Kingdom.
Image description. A small child in the parents garden' with a bunch of Pompions. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.
orange spheres the colour of a Sor’inynt
tunic and the size of an orc’s head, set against
gigantic purplish-green leaves – Pompions are unmistakable even from a distance.
Growing on surprisingly dainty ground-hugging vines, Pompions range in diameter from a handspan to a fore across, though the average is closer to two hands. Some mature Pompions which have been carefully cultivated have weighed in at eight or nine heb (eighty or ninety od) and reaching nearly a ped across, but such monsters are rare. The vines themselves are usually about three to five peds when straightened out, but usually grow in a curly tangle, seven or eight at a time branching out from the central root. The leaves are almost a seatprint in area, scalloped and ‘cut’ along their edges, and coloured in rich streaks of pigmentation, vivid purples and violets smeared against a background of charred emeraud.
The outside shell is about a thumb-thick, hard to the touch and dimpled evenly all over with irregular depressions that look as if some little wildcat had been dancing on the gourd. The indentations are quite shallow, only enough to create an impression of mottling as the light falls across the uneven surface. The colour ranges from a soft Stratan yellow ochre to a molten gold hue, into a deep sunset orange, showing up spectacularly against the dark streaked greens and purples of the leaves.
These large gourds hold from one to five scups of spongy orange flesh or ‘meat’ inside their hard shells. The flesh is of a very neutral taste, somewhat watery and pleasantly fibrous. It takes on the scent and flavour of whatever else it is cooked with and so is popular in ‘stretching’ receipts, rather as the loriv berry is used in baking.
The central core of the gourd contains a tangle of thin rootlike structures which enwrap the large, boat-shaped black seeds of the Pompion. The root-tangle, called ‘Pom-thread’ in central Santharia, is actually a delicacy if one has the patience to pick out all the seeds. Most busy housemistresses simply carve away the meat and discard both shell and Pom-thread with the seeds together. However, when time permits, they clean the tangle, chop it fine, and fry it with a half-weeproot - and a shake of black khmeen or mosspepper if they have it. The result is something like a meaty noodle; flavourful, rich, and immensely satisfying.
Territory. The Water Gourd, as its alternate name seems to suggest, prefers warm, damp areas. (This, however, is a false cognate; the name actually comes from one of the Pompion’s alternate uses as a drinking container… see below under Usages!) It grows well through most of central Sarvonia, in particular the Santharian Kingdom, and thrives around Ciosa, Yorick and Vezash, to name just three areas. Antiragon, a small town just above the Sharadon, cultivates the Pompion commercially for both food and containers.
Usages. The Pompions mainly has three different purposes - to be used as food, as containers or even as toys:
Pompions are, as has been mentioned, a useful and nutritious food-expander, not scorned by even the most rarified of foodmasters in noble households, but known to even the poorest of peasants. Unfortunately they are choosy about their growing conditions, and an entire crop can rot away on the vines if the weather is uncooperative, so they are not always an infallible solution to hunger. However, the flesh is excellent cooked with meat, fish, or other vegetables, and the Pom-thread a hearty treat for the patient and nimble-handed.
Here we should mention that the Pompion, by its ThergerimTaal name of “Mezpuu”, or “Golden Sponge”, is very popular with the dwarves of Sarvonia. They grow it aboveground where possible, or trade for it, and have devised any number of ways to prepare it, including roasted and stuffed, creamed and baked as a dessert pie, and dried. Apparently a whole roasted Pompion with Mitharim-made borwul-bread stuffing can be as delicious as a fire-grilled taenish hen!
The gourd can be dried and used as a watertight container, if done carefully. Usually it is prepared in the following way: the Pompion is picked when it has reached the desired size of the container, leaving a good length of vine still attached. Then, while it is still fresh, it is drilled into with a gourd auger (or a small hole is carved using a sharp, specially-bladed knife) and the flesh, Pom-thread, and seeds all carefully scooped out through the hole. The hole is always located just to one side of the long stem, which is bent around and tied in a loop while it is still fresh. Thus one has a convenient hanging loop for the container.
The gourd is hung up and left to dry, inside and out. When fully dry, it is scraped once more to ensure the interior is completely free of detritus, washed, and treated with a resinous gnomish ‘varnish’ to stop it absorbing liquid. A wooden stopper is hand-carved to fit the hole; often the top is shaped like a stylised beetle or little sleeping mouse, with a plug beneath that seals off the flask. With a cord to keep the stopper from becoming lost, and perhaps some further decorative etching on the outside of the gourd, one’s drinking vessel is ready!
Although the boat-shaped seeds of the Pompion are inedible, they nonetheless have a use. For time and times unknown, children have gleefully seized these miniature glossy black scoops and set them afloat on puddles and streams. Some fancy them up with a ‘mast’ and ‘sail’ formed of a twig and leaf held in place with a dab of pine gum or wax, while others simply toss them into the current and watch them drift away. Enterprising mothers have used their children’s interest in the Pompion seeds to get them to clean the Pom-thread, and thus everyone is happy!
The Pompion sends out vines from a central rootstock early in the spring
(usually the third month, Avénni'modía, or Awakening Earth). The vines put forth
deep golden flowers shaped like the dwarven
instrument ‘Baroomith’, alternately containing long slender pistils, slightly
sticky with the vines’ secretions, or powdery anthers rich with pollen. Thus a
single Pompion plant can in theory fertilize itself, but generally in practise a
malise never visits a flower on any plant
where it has just been. Different malises
may come and go from different flowers on the same plant, but an
already-powdered insect will flit to a separate vine for its next shot of
nectar, thus ensuring good cross-pollination.
The fertilized flowers soon begin to swell at their bases, developing tiny green globes, then drop away by the fifth month. The globes receive full sunlight at this point and expand, taking on their mature colouration and full size by autumn. They can be left on the vine late into winter, or even through the winter; the flesh is still edible after having been frozen, but becomes very watery when thawed. Wild Pompions which are not consumed by the local fauna will thaw in the spring, and slowly decay on the spot, allowing their seeds to sink into the ground and hopefully begin a new plant. Cultivated Pompions are of course harvested, and the farmer saves a sack or two of the large seeds from the best plants each year.
Myth/Lore. Pompion shells are often carved decoratively into other household objects, such as lanterns, gruel bowls, simple hair clips, and so on. The dried shell is not as sturdy as wood but is lighter and holds up well enough under everyday use. After all, if it breaks, it’s more easily replaced than a wooden item…
In many parts of Sarvonia, when carving the shell in this way, the dried bits and fragments that go unused are carefully swept up and burned rather than being tossed on the compost heap. People believe that this honours Jeyriall, Mistress of Crops and Keeper of the bounty of the fields. In other areas the carved drinking gourd is inscribed with her name, and men will tell you this keeps the water fresher.
A particularly plump and ruddy baby is praised with the expression, “As cute as a little Pompion!” However, a greedy and indolent fellow may be teased with “Pompion-gut, Pompion-gut!” while a dullard is referred to as “Head as thick as a Pompion!”
One enormous Pompion was grown in the time of King Athelan and the farmer responsible carefully carved it out into the shape of a fantastical cradle complete with canopy and curving posts, dried it, and brought it to the court as a gift for the newly-born princess. It is said that the king had it lined with Shendarsilk and the softest of sawis fleeces, and rewarded the farmer with a model of a Pompion made from solid gold.
Information provided by Bard Judith