Mouse melons are fruits that look like miniature watermelons and taste like tangy cucumbers. While this might sound like a genetically-engineered nightmare, the species Melothria scabra has actually been eaten in Central America since Aztec times.
Also known as Mexican sour gherkins, or cucamelons, this heirloom cultivar is a member of the cucumber family and is getting more popular each year amongst savvy gardeners. The prolific vines produce ample little fruits and are a great, easy-growing choice for container gardens and cooks who like to pickle. They demand little of the gardener, other than a trellis on which the vine can be trained, full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
James Wong, a British botanist whose book, Homegrown Revolution, is an ode to broadening the boundaries of what modern gardeners think they can grow, is a big proponent of weird and wonderful flavours such as mouse melons.
On his blog, he notes that: “[Mouse melons], unlike most cucurbits (squash, courgettes, pumpkins, etc.), take ages to germinate – up to 4 weeks! The key factor to speeding this up is giving them enough heat… Usually a sunny windowsill is perfect, but under very cold conditions I would pop them in a heated propagator.”
So what to do with them once they’re ready to harvest? Wong suggests that while the fruit is great eaten straight off the plant, it can also be tossed with slivers of pepper and a dousing of olive oil, “perfect for a quirky snack with drinks – or even popped like an olive in a cheeky martini.”
Mouse melon dill pickles are another easy and delicious option. They can be pickled whole, but Wong suggests slicing them in half and pre-salting to get crisper and quicker results. Rinse them after about 20 minutes, then flavor your pickling brine with any seasoning you want: dill, mint, peppercorns or pickling spice would all be good choices.
Mouse melon bruschetta
1 pint mouse melons, sliced in half
2 cipollini onions or shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 small red chili or jalapeno, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil or mint, chopped
Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey or maple syrup, juice of half a lime, Kosher salt, black pepper
Spoon over slices of toasted baguette.