9 March 2009

Processing luffas (loofahs)

They look ugly. The dry skin is brown with blotches of mildew, they look heavy but they are deceptively light. Yes, I'm talking about our luffas. We have a very small crop this year, mainly, I think, due to the amount of summer rain we had. But I'm grateful for whatever grows and they'll do Hanno and I, plus our guests for the coming year. There are about 10 luffas almost ready to harvest but two have been waiting for me on the outside table for about a week after dropping off the vine. So today I have photos of what I did with them yesterday. It's a simple thing to skin them, save the seeds and clean them well enough for use. The entire process took me about 10 minutes yesterday.

The trick to easy processing is to allow the luffas to go brown and dry completely before you process them. That can be done either on the vine or picked. Our luffas tend to develop mildew in our warm and humid summer weather, and if that happens to yours too, it's not a problem. Just let them dry naturally. They will be ready for picking and processing when the skin is dark brown and very dry. If you pick one up in your hand, it will be very light, because all the flesh inside has dried up, leaving only a skeleton of fibres. When they're at that stage, pick them and lay them on a table outside in the shade for a day or so to completely dry out.

Break the end off where they were attached to the vine. That little disc will come away from the luffa really easily. When it does, tap the luffa on the table a few times to dislodge the seeds, and tip them out. There are quite a few seeds in each one so keep tapping them until all the seeds are out.

Then squash the luffa in your hand to crack the skin. You will see on the luffa above there is mildew growing on the skin. Sometimes that goes through to the luffa too. If it does, don't worry. We will fix that soon.

When the skin is cracked all over, start peeling. It's easy if you start at the bottom and pull a strip off.

In the photo above you'll see one luffa that has no mildew and one (behind) that has.

I soak all our luffas in a weak bath of bleach water. It kills all the mildew spores, and even though you may not see mildew in some of the luffas, it might still be there. Yesterday I used a ¼ cup of liquid chlorine bleach in about 5 litres (quarts) of water.

And here they are one hour later. The black dots you can see are seeds that didn't come out. When I removed the luffas from the bleach, I soaked them well in clean water and hit the luffas against the wall to dislodge the remaining seeds. They then dried in the sun.

Luffas can be eaten like squash when they're young but we grow them only to use as a sponge in the shower or sometimes I cut them up to use as pot scrubbers. They're a very useful, non-food plant for the sustainable home. I have a few seeds to swap, so if you're in Australia and you're interested in seed swapping, please contact me on rhondahetzel AT gmail DOT com. (I will be at work today and tomorrow, so I might not reply straight away.) Most other countries have strict rules about seeds coming from foreign countries, so I'm sorry but I can't swap with the majority of you. Luffa seeds are usually available from most open pollinated or heirloom seed merchants.

My other luffa posts - luffas and soap, growing luffas, pouring soap inside luffas, harvesting luffas

PS The cyclone has moved closer but it's still out at sea. It is now category 4 but is expected to remain at sea and weaken as it moves down the coast. Hopefully we will get a bit of rain from it but it looks like it won't cross land.

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