This summer I had cucumbers climbing all over my garden, from the cream-colored orbs of my Dragon’s Eggs to the slender and striated Metki Painted Serpents. But the biggest crowd pleasers of the season have got to be these little guys — Mexican Sour Gherkins.
Looking like lilliputian watermelons with their distinctive dark and light green “rinds,” they make up in character what they lack in size. The Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra) is an heirloom native to Mexico and Central America, where it’s known as sandita (little watermelon). But it tastes neither sour nor watermelon-y; the palm-sized fruit is bright and tangy on the tongue, like cucumber with a twist of lemon. A cucamelon, if you will.
Mexican Sour Gherkins have been around since pre-Columbian times, but were not brought into botanical classification until the mid-1800s. Despite being a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, they’re only distantly related to the cucumber and will not cross with other cucumber varieties. They’re also said to be the most cold-tolerant of all cukes, and will continue to fruit until the first frost. (Seeing as we don’t get frost here in zone 10b, I’m hoping to sow a second crop this fall for winter harvesting!)
The vines are more delicate and compact than those of typical cucumbers, and in peak season, my trellises are covered with handfuls of gherkins peeking out from between ivy-shaped leaves.
Growing from teeny tiny blossoms, they never get more than an inch or so long and tend to drop from the vines as soon as they’re ripe.
True to their gherkin namesake, these cucumbers are well suited to pickling whole. You may be familiar with another term for those pint-sized pickles — cornichon, the French word for gherkin. In various Spanish dialects and Native American tongues, the cukes are known by a myriad of monikers that ultimately translates into mouse melon.
But no matter what you call it (personally, I’m partial to cucamelon), this variety is now a summer staple for me. Cute, crunchy, perfect for pickling — and I’ll share one of my favorite recipes, a classic bread ‘n butter, in my next post!