I am always excited about ‘brand new’ edibles. Well actually there are few, if any, new ones, but I mean edibles that are new to most of us. Cucamelons are new to most people even though they have been around for a while in Europe and have been cultivated for centuries in Mexico and Central America. Botanically Melothria scabra, this is a vigorous vine with many slender stems, lobed leaves and small (5mm) yellow flowers. They are readily grown from seed as an annual and although I have only grown them under glass or plastic they are pretty vigorous and I am sure they would be OK outside in a sheltered place. Though grown as an annual, the rootstock will survive as a perennial if not frosted.
It is weird what I take photos of – or rather what I don’t. I only use my own photos in posts and 99% are of the plants I have grown so it is odd that I can’t find a photo of the fruit and only the plant. After all it is the fruit that is important! On the other hand you can see photos of the fruit all over the web and not the plant so maybe this image of the young plants, in July, just as they are starting to bloom, is useful.
The plants produce both male and female flowers and I found that there were no pollination problems. The plants, though rangy and straggly, produce lots of fruits. Grow them just as you would any other cucurbit with lots of organic matter in the soil and plenty of water once they are growing strongly.
On to the fruit. I can see why these have become popular at least in theory. Called cucamelons, mouse melons or Mexican sour gherkins, the fruit, as they start to grow, are sausage-shaped and striped along their length in two shades of green. As they grow they fill out so that when fully grown, about 2cm long, they look like tiny, oblong watermelons. They look very cute.
The taste is usually described as being like a cucumber but with a tang, sometimes a limy tang. This is true enough. But, popping one in your mouth, you first have to bust through the tough skin. As you chew them there is a real crunch because of the skin. The taste is pretty good though. Do not let them get fully round – they get tougher as they get bigger.
I would say that these are merely a curiosity and hardly worth growing except for a couple of points. Cucumbers can be a real pain to grow, suffering lots of diseases and pollination issues. And if you pick a whole cue you may not want to use it all immediately. Cucamelons are easy to please and they crop well. You can pick just as many as you need. They are great whole in salads, especially in a Greek salad where you can use cherry toms and the crunchy cucamelons sit happily. But they do not have the genteel pleasure of a nice cucumber. If you, like me, like fresh coconut but have a tendency to end up with cheeks filled with balls of fibre you can’t swallow, you may prefer cucumber to cucamelons.
Packets usually contain lots of seeds. Sow two seeds per pot, in mid March to April in 20c. Plants are slower to get going than other cucurbits so slightly earlier sowing is helpful. Give the plants support immediately after planting – they grow very quickly and will easily make a scruffy mass 2m high and wide.
Culinary delight? I am not at all sure.
Useful and easy crop? Yes, probably.
Have I grown it? Yes.
Am I growing it this year. Actually, yes.