Intrigued by the description of these unusual fruits and the enthusiasm of one of our customers who had grown them in the past, I decided to try growing cucamelon plants myself at home to see how they would perform. These small, grape size watermelon lookalikes are ignored by pests, are drought tolerant and are easy to grow and are from the James Wong range by Suttons at Lime Cross. Originating from Mexico, their name Sandiitas de Taton translates to ‘Little Mouse Watermelons’ which I think is rather endearing (especially as I really am fond of mice)!
I started the seeds off in April, sowing them in fine compost in a seed tray and watering lightly. I covered the tray with a clear plastic bag and positioned it on the kitchen window sill where the seeds would germinate.
Cucamelon seedlings appeared after about two weeks and, when roughly 7cm high, they were transplanted into individual 3” pots. The seedlings were quite straggly and floppy and needed short canes for support. By this point, my plants were being carted in and out of doors each day – outside in the sun during the day and out of slug’s harm indoors at night! When about 10” high the seedlings were pinched out and transplanted into window box tubs and trained up the sides of an arbour bench which was first covered with chicken wire for support. Cucamelons can also be grown in a greenhouse in a grow bag, in a large pot or even in the border. Wherever you decide to grow them, they will need regular watering and feeding with a high potash liquid fertilizer (such as Tomorite which is what I used).
The plants continued to grow vigorously and by late summer, we were picking handfuls of fruits fresh from the vine! They are a beautiful looking fruit, described as tasting like cucumber with a tinge of lime, which is true. However, the texture and flavour is rather peculiar and, as I didn’t want to waste my efforts, some of the fruits have been pickled in spiced vinegar, with a second batch being made into cucumber relish, adding ordinary cucumbers to bulk up the recipe! Both of these are yet to be tasted but I’m hoping that they will be delicious with my favourite cheeses to enjoy over the festive season!
Cucamelons can be treated like a perennial providing you with fruit year-after-year. In late autumn, once the fruiting period is over, lift the cucamelon’s main radish-like root and store in barely moist compost in a garage or shed over winter. Plant out again in early April to achieve early fruiting.
Cucamelons can be eaten in the same way as traditional cucumbers – sliced into salads, chopped into salsas or pickled. Mix whole cucamelons (fresh, blanched or pickled) into a bowl of olives and serve with drinks, or why not spear them with toothpicks and pop them into a martini, a gin and tonic or a glass of Pimms!?
Why not try this recipe from Suttons Seeds?
Pickled Cucamelons with Dill and Mint
A brilliant way to make these crisp summer fruits last well into the depths of winter; home pickling is far easier than you would ever think!
375ml white vinegar (such as distilled malt or white wine)
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp dill, chopped
1 tbsp mint, chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 fresh grape leaf or oak leaf
Pour the vinegar into a bowl and add the salt and sugar. Whisk until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Stir in the dill, mint and peppercorns. Wash the cucamelons in water and pour them into a sterilised jar (sterilise jars by simply running the open jar through the dishwasher on the hottest cycle). Scrunch up the grape (or oak) leaf and pop this on top of the cucamelons. The tannins in this will slowly disperse out andhelp keep the fruit crisp. Pour the seasoned vinegar into the jar and seal tightly. Refrigerate for 2 weeks at which point they will be ready to eat.
Suttons take food sensitivity seriously. If you are unsure you may be allergic to any varieties in the James Wong Homegrown Revolution range, please take the precaution of seeking medical advice.