This past winter, Marris and Joanne Bos of Rapid City, Man. were holidaying in the Okanagan Valley in B. C. and visited the museum in Osoyoos. There they acquired information about an unfamiliar plant and even obtained some seeds from the museum, seeds for a plant called the zucca melon (zucca Neopalitana).
This melon, or squash, had been grown in Europe – notably Italy – during the first part of the 20th century and the story has it that the Italians got so sick of it during the war when there was not much else to eat that it is no longer very popular there. Apparently, a couple of enterprising fellows from the Okanagan Valley acquired some seeds in the 1930s from Italy and began growing the melons, whose meat is almost flavourless, making it ideal for use as filler material in foods because it readily takes on any flavour. It was used to make candied peel and as filler in baking among other things during the war and postwar years when “real” ingredients were hard to come by.
Gradually the melon fell out of favour as various traditional ingredients became more readily available. It was also discovered that the plants had a harmful effect on the soil in which they were grown; because they were such heavy feeders, the plants depleted the soil of its nutrients.
Joanne, an avid gardener, planted some seeds indoors in the spring and raised three plants in a greenhouse which she gave to her neighours, Doug Reid and Olive Walker, who planted them in their garden. Joanne said that she didn’t have space in her own garden for these giant, rambling vines.
The zucca melons grew quickly and the couple asked me to come and see them in mid-September. They had covered the plants a couple of times to protect them from early frosts but would have to harvest the melons soon before harder frosts occurred. I was astonished at the size of the melons. Doug had each one sitting on a bed of straw to keep the melons from touching the soil, sodden as it was from all the rainfall that has occurred this summer.
What the melons will be used for is still undecided. In Europe, apparently, the melon is sold by the slice – it is cut using a sharp saw because the rind is very hard. Perhaps we will see “melon slices” advertised for sale in the local paper! Probably not, but the growing of the melons was an interesting undertaking enjoyed by both Doug and Olive and well as the Bos family who supplied the seed.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba
MEGA-MELON:Zucca melons are huge.
The shovel was placed in the picture to help illustrate the size.