Since I still haven’t worked my way through all the apples I brought back from Herefordshire (despite continuing to bottle them), on Monday night I decided to make apple and pie-melon chutney. You will notice that I have now decided to use the Australian name for my Curcurbita ficifolia. This is because (1) I never have any intention of making Sharks fin melon soup and (2) the name ‘pie-melon’ is just so much nicer*. In addition, since narf gave me some great links (see her comment with this post), I’ve decided I’d like to carry on the long Australian tradition.

My pie melon... is it ripe?

My pie melon… is it ripe?

Actually, there seems to be some debate about the actual species that constitutes ‘pie melon’: in some places these are Curcurbita ficifolia, like mine, but elsewhere the name refers to Citrullus lanatus var. citroides (a sort of ancestral water melon with red seeds and also known as citron melon). In both cases, the fruit is pretty bland and I think can be used for similar purposes, hence the confusion. It appears that Citrullus lanatus may have softer more glutinous flesh, whilst Curcurbita ficifolia has tougher flesh with fibres. Both seem to store well and there is some suggestion that they ripen in storage, so I will definitely be keeping some of mine to see how they change over the months. Having said that, all of mine are still growing in the garden apart from the one harvested last week.

Anyway… having discovered that I might be able to use my Curcurbita ficifolia glut for preserve-making, I decided to explore the possibilities. We don’t eat very much jam, so there seems little point in making large quantities that will simply sit in a cupboard for ages. However, we did enjoy some apple chutney that we were given last year (delicious with Glamorgan sausages) and so, I thought that this might be something worth attempting. I consulted various recipe books and settled on using the general one from River Cottage. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls this glutney because you can use it to make a chutney from whatever you have an abundance of…. and for me at the moment that is apple and pie-melon. The choice of recipe was also was partly based on the fact that I’m not a big fan of vinegar-based preserves (I really don’t like pickles) and this recipe seemed to use an acceptable amount of vinegar. I chose cider vinegar because of the apples, but also because it is, to my taste, quite mild.

In the end, I used the following recipe (the River Cottage recipe I started from just gave an indication of relative amounts of sugar/veg/vinegar etc so this is my interpretation and choice of specific ingredients):

1kg pie melon
1.5kg apples
500g onions
500g dates
500g soft brown sugar
600ml cider vinegar
A spice bag containing: 50g fresh root ginger roughly chopped and bruised; green peppercorns; white peppercorns; whole coriander seeds

Basically, I chopped all the fruit and veg and the dates, then put everything in a preserving pan, brought it gently to the boil and simmered it (uncovered, stirring occasionally) for three hours, before potting it up in hot sterilised jars.

In order to avoid the house filling with vinegar fumes (as happened the only other time I tried to make chutney… mango, sometime in the last century) I had the extractor hood on over the cooker all the time.

The resulting chutney looks like bottled rhubarb! I had a little taste and it seemed ok, but it needs to mature for a couple of months before it’s ready to eat… I will report back.

Lots of jars of chutney... I wonder what it will taste like!

Lots of jars of chutney… I wonder what it will taste like!


* It does, however, mean that my previous post should be re-titled ‘Pie attack’… which I’m not convinced has the same ring!

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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