Thursday, 5 September 2013

Mouse melon - is it a melon, or is it a cucumber?

Inspired by the description of mouse melons in Tom Moggach's book, The Urban Kitchen Gardener, we set out in search of seeds for the Secret Garden earlier this year.

Mouse melons (Melothria scabra), also known here as cucamelons, or Mexican Sour Gherkins (which just makes them sound unpleasant) come from central America, where they are known  as sandita ('little watermelon') and used in salsas, salads, pickles and desserts.

They are ready to eat straight from the plant when they are just a bit larger than a grape and really do look like miniature, dolls-house sized watermelons. Firm-skinned, but juicy inside, the flavour is like an astringent cucumber - cucumber dressed with lime juice, say. Perfect for adding a zingy kick to salads, and salsas, or slicing into drinks, or, as we did at the Secret Garden Club, eating straight from the plant as a snack.

We found our seeds from James Wong's Homegrown Revolution range for Suttons. Mouse melons are deceptively easy to grow even in our relatively cool and damp climate. They are not frost-hardy, so sow them indoors to start off with, either in modules or small pots, and keep them there until the weather has warmed up properly. They can be transferred outdoors in late May or even June, or you can raise them in a greenhouse. Give them something to scramble up - the plants send out small green tendrils which will wind round a stake, trellis, or the nearest other plant.

Other than that they need very little fussing over. The tiny yellow flowers will appear in July, followed by the distinctive oval fruits. These start ripening round about now and should keep going until October.

We've grown ours in the open ground, but by all accounts they do well in pots as well.

Suppliers: James Wong's Homegrown Revolution range, Suttons Seeds, also Victoriana Nursery Gardens.

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