Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Melon Adventures

Citrullus lanatus var. citroides

Here's another update on the gourd, aka wild melon, aka citron melon, aka preserving melon. Around my household it will henceforth be referred to as a "pie melon."

I emailed the kind and knowledgeable Mr. Burr Williams of the Sibley Nature Center, a 49 acre preserve in Midland that specializes in the nature and history of the Llano Estacado. I asked what he knew of this mysterious melon I had captured from the wild. He promptly replied,
The gourd is known as pie melon in west Texas. It is watermelon in its original form -- reverted back to the form through cross pollination with other gourds, and the natural variance of its own genetics -- its most hardy form is the original form, not our modern juicy watermelons. They are native to Africa... since they are called pie melons, I suppose with a lot of sugar they could be made edible, but they are horribly bitter -- so bitter the coyotes leave them alone.
With that information I went Googling with wild abandon. Among scientific papers outlining possible herbicides to eradicate it from cotton and peanut fields, and among anecdotal stories about its hardness requiring an axe to open it (I used a knife, but agree, it was quite hard to cut), I found other interesting tidbits.

Through Google Books search I found several old recipes including this one from the mid 1800s that seemed to imply upon mastering a certain sweetmeat recipe featuring this melon, I could become "an improved housewife." I also enjoyed this Texas writer -- and apparent jokester -- who tells how he tried to trick his friend into thinking his gift of one of these melons could be heartily enjoyed after a Thanksgiving meal.

These various internet finds and the long history of stories about this melon gave me a kind of pioneer adventurous spirit. So in spite of Mr. William's dire warning about its bitterness, I decided that I wanted to experience its flavor myself. With trepidation, I picked up a spoon and scooped out a small bite.

Far be it from me to contradict Mr. Williams -- he has never led me astray before -- but in this one case, I have to respectfully disagree. The melon was not sweet, but it was not bitter in the least. Its texture wasn't as juicy or as refreshingly crunchy as our icebox watermelons, but it was completely edible! Bland to be sure, but edible. No wonder the pioneer women made pies, preserves, and pickles from it. It definitely needs a little oomph to make it memorable beyond the first brave experience.

This is my fair warning to Donna: next time we see a wild crop of these, we'll need to make room for half a dozen of them for me to take home to cook. And here's my fair warning to readers: this isn't the last you've heard of the big-a** gourd, wild melon, citron melon, Citrullus lanatus var. citroides, or as I now shall simply refer to it, without feeling I'm misleading you in the least, the pie melon.


Bev said...

Thoroughly enjoyed enjoyed reading this. Sounds like you really let your hair down today, what with the 'wild abandon' when googling, and the 'pioneer spirit' with the gourd cooking! Sounds like you enjoyed yourself too.

Wondered what this picture was when I first saw it. It quite looks like the surface of some planet. I suppose this is what you would see if you were some ant walking across the gourd.

dianeclancy said...

Hi Debi,

Wonderful post about our melon ... so much fun you are having!!

What an intriguing, odd photo - I like it!

~ Diane Clancy

Bobbie said...

This is a nice close-up of the queer "pie" melon. I do think you should definitely dry the seeds and roast them. I can't wait to read as I hope see how the pie or preserves turns out.

John (Copyright JMM 2007-2008) said...

sucker for abstraction - very nice

Sweet Irene said...

Well, that pie melon with all that fuzz on it doesn't look very edible now. It sort of makes me want to pucker my mouth, but I'll take your word for it that it is somewhat edible. Besides, during the war, people ate tulip bulbs, so anything is edible when you are hungry enough. Those pioneers were hardy people and very inventive when it came to cooking and preserving things.