Shark attack!

Well, actually me attacking a shark’s fin melon. And, my word, they do take some attacking!

I finally decided to harvest one of these earlier in the week. A friend had suggested leaving them to grow until the foliage was killed by frosts, but since the temperature reached 20°C last Saturday (yes in mid-October in Wales, which really is in the Northern hemisphere) the prospect of frost seems a long way off.

This one decided to engulf the fruit cage

This one decided to engulf the fruit cage

I have been researching this species since it has been such a success in my garden. It is variously known as Shark’s Fin Melon, Siam pumpkin, Fig-leaved gourd, Chilacayote and Pie Melon (in Australia and New Zealand) and its scientific name is Curcurbita ficifolia. According to Wikipedia, it has black seeds, but mine doesn’t and the seeds I planted weren’t black, so I’m not sure whether there are different varieties, or whether this is a different species (although all other features match) or whether Wikipedia is just plain wrong (surely not!). Apparently the very tough skin – and, believe  me, it really is tough – means that it stores well, which is good because I have six of the things…. possibly about 20kg in total.

A good weight

A good weight

The one I harvested this week weighed nearly three kilos and I’m sure it wasn’t going to grow much more because the skin was so hard. When I finally broke my way into it, I was greeted by a distinct smell of melon, creamy white flesh and large pale seeds. The reading that I had done suggested it would be fibrous, and it is a bit when it’s raw, but it actually breaks down into strands (a bit like thick fish bones) when it’s cooked.

When I finally got inside it looked like this

When I finally got inside it looked like this

When you search for recipes, there are dozens for ‘sharks fin melon soup’, but I don’t ‘t really fancy that and so I have decided to experiment. The melon smell did make me wonder how useful this was going to be as a vegetable, but I bit the bullet and put some chunks into a chicken casserole, along with parsnip, carrot, swede, onion and potato. In fact, I really didn’t notice any taste from the melon – the strands retained a slightly crunchy texture and that was about it. Certainly as a way of bulking up a stew, it seems fine. In the coming days I will be experimenting with it roasted and steamed, plus I intend to have a go at apple and shark’s fin melon chutney (as you can make anything you have a glut of into chutney, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall).

I will report back, but I don’t have high hopes in the flavour department! However, it produced lots of biomass (good for composting) and apparently the flowers and foliage are edible as well as the fruits. You can seed save because it, supposedly, doesn’t hybridise with any of the other curcurbits and I’m guessing that livestock would enjoy it too, although I haven’t yet offered any to the hens. You never know, it may be a crop I come to love!

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  1. With that sort of texture, I wonder whether it would adapt well to a pumpkin jam recipe? The delicious Portuguese doce de abóbora uses a slightly stringy fruit.

  2. Goodness what an unusual plant. Look forward to reading more about it.

  3. I wonder if you could do something similar to marrow rum? Scoop out the centre, fill with dark brown sugar, drill a small hole in the bottom and collect the liquor?

  4. I also have four or five of these from the seedlings you gave me, a vigorous looking thing. I will wait and watch your cooking experiments before taking a knife to any of mine.

  5. I’ve never heard of this Jan – thank goodness for blogging else I’d die an absolute ignoramus! I’m with you and Hugh on the chutney thing – and also wondering if it is edible raw – you know, as a curcurbit – salads and such like……….?

  6. Pie melon? You have pie melons?! Mum would lament the lack of pie melons in her latter years whenever she wanted to make jam. “We used to cut our jams with pie melon” she would say. Pie melons are to jam and preserves what tofu is to stir fry, a great carrier that doesn’t offer a lot of flavour of it’s own. They are ideal to bulk out smaller amounts of fruit and veggies when making preserves. I just Googled and found these. The first one is back from the late 30’s last century!

    and this one has lots of other links for using pie melons 🙂

    Hope you find something that you would like to make in this lot 🙂

    • Thank you… lots to read and plans to make and information to pass on to the folks who I gave seedlings too and who also have piles of ‘pie melons’

      • Glad I could help. I just didn’t recognise them when they were called shark melons. Pie melons I know! 😉

  7. They’re also called paddy or jam melons here. They are traditionally used as an extender when you’re making jam with something a bit posher, like pineapple. Apparently they take on the flavour of whatever you’ve cooked them with and retain their texture. For pineapple and paddy melon jam, you use 1 large pineapple, 1 2kg melon and 2kg of jam sugar. It’s a very traditional Australian recipe, and used to feature regularly in the Countrywoman’s Association recipe books and in the preserves section at country shows.

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