Kissin’ cousins to cucumbers, Mexican mouse melons pack a flavorful wallop despite their Lilliputian size.
Its unique flavor, with hints of cucumber and green fava bean, its pest-free and rampant habit of growth, not to mention its huge productivity, all conspire to recommend this unusual vine to home gardeners looking for something new to add to their menus.
The melon’s most common name in Spanish is “sandíita” (little watermelon), but it has a slew of other monikers in local dialects and Native American languages, many of which translate as “mouse melon.” These colloquial names are not surprising because the fruits resemble superminiaturized watermelons, the perfect scale for a mouse-sized picnic.
The scientific name of this plant is Melothria scabra. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and was first described scientifically in 1866 by the French botanist Charles Victor Naudin. I should add in the same breath that Naudin’s Latin nomenclature for the melon is not engraved in stone because there is quite a bit of argument as to where this plant belongs by botanical classification, especially because it has very close relatives in Africa.
If botanists have been late in coming to terms with the mouse melon, Native American peoples have not. It has been a staple of Mexican and Central American diets since pre-Columbian times, hence its great array of names in indigenous languages. These people also use the melon in nonculinary ways, including in medicine, yet little of this information can be found in mainstream literature.
Mouse melons are terrific in stir-fries; they can be pickled just like French gherkins, eaten raw in salads or put up like Polish dill pickles. They also can be chopped and added to salsas for extra texture and flavor.
How to Grow Them
Growing mouse melons is no hassle at all. We strongly advise creating a wire cage or trellis, because the vines will climb as high as 10 feet. Best of all, the plants will continue to fruit until the first frost. Having grown the melons for several years now, we also can attest that the plants are fairly drought-resistant, more so than cucumbers. And nothing — not even birds — has attacked the fruit. You also may discover that the plants reseed themselves freely, but letting them run over the ground is not the best way to cultivate them because this invites slug damage.