Even though they have been consumed since pre-Columbian times, and are a staple in Mexican diets, cucamelons surely sound strange to most of you.
These cute fruits are also known as “Mexican sour gherkin,” or Spanish, “sandiita” (little watermelon). They resemble watermelons, but are in the size of a grape, and taste like lime and cucumbers.
They are not some GMO hybrid, but a delicacy that grows on a thin vine and is surrounded by ivy-like leaves. Moreover, they are believed to become the next superfood, since they are rich in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and very low in calories.
Cucamelons are also a member of the cucumber family, Cucurbitaceae, but they differ from cucumbers since they belong to different genuses.
Namely, cucumbers are members of the genus Cucumis, while cucamelons are members of the genus Melothria, so their characteristics, medicinal properties, requirements, and potential pests are not the same.
First of all, cucamelons are more tolerant of cold temperatures than cucumbers. They continue producing fruits even when the weather cools off and rains, unlike cucumber plants, which are more sensitive to wet and cold. Moreover, this may be several weeks longer than a cucumber plant’s lifespan.
Additionally, Cucamelons are monoecious, so they have male and female flowers on one plant and are able to self-pollinate.
Their fruits develop at the base of the female flowers, similarly to cucumbers, and pollinators or wind transfer pollen from the male flowers to female flowers.
You should not worry about cross-pollination, as they won’t cross-pollinate with other members of the cucumber family. Cucamelons belong to the genus Melothria, so they are not able to cross with members of the cucumber genus, Cucumis.
This means that you can freely plant these plants next to your cucumbers in the garden, and while they will produce true seed, cucumber plants will cross.
Cucamelons lower the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease, and rejuvenate the body cells and tissues, preventing premature aging.
They are also high in lycopene, a carotenoid which boosts cardiac functioning, and beta-carotene, which prevents age-related cardiac conditions.
Their consumption is also linked to improved eye health, better cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol levels, and much more.
However, the odds that your local grocery store offers cucamelons are pretty slim, so it would be best to learn how to grow them in your own garden.
They are easy to grow since they do not require pruning, are drought-resistant and do not need to be covered in a greenhouse.
Here is what you need to do:
1. Buy high-quality cucamelons seeds online, and make sure they are organic and chemical-free. When you have established your own plants, pick a ripe fruit that has fallen to the ground, and place it on a cool place.
After 2 weeks, slice it open, scoop out the seeds, and keep them in a jar with water for a week. Afterward, rinse them, leave them to dry on paper towels, and when dry, store them in a paper envelope.
2. These fruits are technically perennials, and require a long growing season with at least 65 to 75 days of warm, frost-free weather and soil temperatures, between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit to bear fruit. Grow them in pots in case you are living in a cooler region.
3. They are best started indoors, in April and May. You can plant them in pots, about a half-inch deep, and then place them in a greenhouse at temperatures around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. They are slow starters, and will take about a month to show their first green shoots.
4. You will need an area with full southern exposure so the plant can get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, and allow at least 12-square-inches of space for every plant
5. Since they are vining plants and can climb as high as 10 feet, you need to support their growth by installing wire cages or trellis
6. Amend the soil with compost or aged manure to provide nutrition that will last all season, place a tablespoon of 6-10-10 analysis fertilizer into each hole, and add small porous lava rocks or perlite to boost soil drainage.
Afterward, the plants will only need 3-inch side-dressing of compost every month, two months after planting them
7. Every 5-7 days in the summer, water the cucamelons, wetting the top 6 to 15 inches of soil. If the weather is very hot, repeat twice a week, and when the weather is foggy and cool, only water if the soil dries out in the top. Also, mulch can regulate the moisture and prevent weeds
8. They are generally resistant to diseases and pests, so pest control is not really an issue. When it comes to reseeding, they do it on their own.
9. You should train the growing vines by gently wrapping them throughout the trellis in all directions.
10. Harvesting your cucamelons: As soon as they start flowering, you can expect the fruits soon. When they reach a nice plump size, harvest them.
Pick them at an earlier stage to stimulate more fruit production. Use a pair of small scissors in order not to rip the plant apart, and if you do it carefully, you can enjoy your cucamelons from July to about mid-November.
11. It would be beneficial to do some pruning as the season progresses, so make sure you trim off the dying leaves.
Afterward, just enjoy these delicious fruits raw,or add them to your salads, stir-fries, dressings, and reap their numerous benefits.
Here is the recipe for cucamelon pickles:
- 2 1/2 cups cucamelons
- 2 green chile peppers, halved and seeded
- 2 sprigs fresh dill
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon dill seed
- 2 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar, or more as needed
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
Immerse in simmering water until the cucamelons are ready, and wash an unused lid and ring in warm, soapy water.
Then, place the cucamelons, chile peppers, dill, yellow mustard seeds, dill seed, and peppercorns in the sterilized jar. In a saucepan, mix the water, salt, and vinegar, boil, and stir until the salt is dissolved.
Then, remove the saucepan from heat, leave it to cool, and pour the vinegar mixture over the cucamelons so they are completely covered.
Close the jar, and leave it to stand for 4 days. Then, enjoy your pickled cucamelons!