This year I have been a member of the heritage seed library (again), and and one of the seeds I selected to grow was ‘shark’s fin melon’. I didn’t have many seeds and succeeded in transplanting three plants into the polytunnel. Two were near the top door, and one I planted with the courgettes near the other end. I had some netting (beach gleanings) for the two at the top to climb up, which they did quite happily, and the other was just left to scramble over the ground. The growing tips are rather beautiful, with spiralling tendrils, and the vine is still punctuated now by enormous golden flowers.
It seems that the plant is supposed to be self fertile, although I deliberately spread pollen between the different plants and still didn’t get many fruit to develop. There is a total of five fruits between the three plants, although these are still producing female flowers. The fruit are enormous, dark green with white stripes, about the size of a football, but slightly elongated. I discovered also last week that the tendrils aren’t able to support the full weight of the fruit as we had a minor collapse of part of the vine near the door. Most of the other fruit I had already supported, and one is sitting on the ground.
Doing a bit of research recently, it seems that shark’s fin melon has many other names. If I had known it was ‘malabar gourd’, I could have looked it up in Simon Hickmott’s unusual vegetable book. My favourite alternative name is ‘Angel’s hair’. According to wikipedia its latin name is Cucurbita ficifolia and as well as the fruit, the seeds, and leaves are also edible see also https://isustainabilityproject.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/cooking-squash-leaves/ and http://jenniferskitchen.com/2017/05/can-you-eat-squash-leaves.html . I haven’t got round to trying the leaves yet. These also grow enormous and give it one of it’s other names : fig leaf gourd.
My vegan friend was staying with me last week, so I enlisted her help in trying the first fruit. Since once ripe the fruit should keep well, we decided to try one that was not the first to develop, to give the others the best chance of ripening to store. Even so it weighed in at nearly 4kg! Since it was quite young, the rind had not fully hardened, and we were able to cut it with a strong knife without too much trouble. The large seeds were also still white and tender when cooked. Half of it made a huge pan of vegan ‘shark’s fin soup’ which I thought would be amusing, and was certainly tasty!
The other half we roasted in the oven, whilst the soup was cooking on the top. We discovered that the flesh does indeed consist of stringy glass noodles (hence ‘Angel’s hair’). These survived being reheated and made a great base for a simple lunch with (vegan) pesto, sundried tomatoes and sweetcorn. I’ve put a little sample of noodles in the freezer to see whether they retain their noodley form on defrosting, since there is a lot of squash between our normal two person household!
The other interesting titbit, is that in warmer climes the plant is perennial, and may even survive light frosts! This could be an interesting candidate for my perennial polytunnel, making good use of the third dimension!