I’m always sceptical when any crop or variety is described as either rampant, vigorous or massively productive as these terms are all too often overused in certain seed catalogues. However, Sharks Fin Melon is without a doubt the most rampant, vigorous and productive crop that I have ever grown!
What is it?
Shark Fin Melon (Cucurbita Ficifolia) is known by a variety of different names including Chilacayote, Cabell d’Àngel, Fig Leaf Gourd and Cayote. It has various culinary uses in both Asian and South American cuisines and is widely grown and eaten in these areas. When boiled and added to a soup, the stringy flesh has (apparently) the same texture as Shark’s Fin Soup, hence its commonly used name.
How to Grow it?
Shark Fin Melons can be treated the same as any other Winter Squash grown in the UK. They are not frost hardy and so the seeds are best started off indoors and then planted out once the last frost has passed. In my experience, once they are established outdoors the plants are fairly tolerance of a broad range of conditions and similarly are relatively untroubled by pests.
As a warning, if they are given enough space and nutrients Shark Fin Melons will run rampant and smother any surrounding crops. I was quite late to realise this and my single plant this year took over at half of my Squash patch at the detriment of some of my other Winter Squashes. The fruits are harvested at the same time as Winter Squashes and they will keep for many months as they have a very tough skin. From a single plant, I harvested an incredible twenty Melons each of them weighing up to a few kilograms.
What does it taste like?
To be honest, I’m not that sold on the taste. When cooked, the dense flesh has a somewhat stringy and gelatinous texture with a faint taste with hints of cucumber and marrow. The black seeds inside are also edible and they have a taste and texture very similar to pumpkin seeds when roasted.
What can you do with it?
When it comes to the flesh, my favourite savoury use so far is to halve a melon, scrape out the seeds and then bake it in the oven filled with spices and cheese following this BBC recipe. In Latin America and parts of Southern Europe, the flesh is typically made into a jam (Dulce de Cabello d’Angel) which is then used to flavour sweets and pastries. Having made a couple of jars of Shark Fin Melon jam following this recipe, I can thoroughly recommend it! Since making it I’ve used it as an unusual and very tasty filling for cakes, simple pastries, pies and even homemade doughnuts.
Where can you get seeds from?