The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
August 7, 2013We have talked of Cantaloupes and Serpent Melons but there are other varieties of the Cucumis tribe that also merit our consideration. The netted or wrought melon is the most common resident of the modern garden and is properly known as the musk melon. While it is the preferred variety today, it was a novelty to the colonial gardener. In 1829 William Cobbett observed in The English Gardener, “There is only one fine musk melon that I ever saw in America; which is called the citron melon, having the flesh nearly white and being of the shape of a lemon.”
The Citron melon appears to have been brought to France from Africa in 1777 and is probably the progenitor of the Pineapple melon listed by Thomas Jefferson in 1794. They all both of a light green flesh, which is typical of nearly all forms of the ancient musk melon, and are possessed of an extraordinary sweetness.
As to the harvesting of musk melons Mr. Randolph instructs: “The sign of the fruit’s maturity is the cracking near the foot stalk; and smelling fragrantly. Gather your fruit in the morning before the sun has warmed it…and keep those got in the morning in the coolest place.”
Another variety of melon grown as a novelty by gentlemen is called the pocket melon and is valued for its sweet fragrance when carried in one’s pocket. As Mr. Randolph, the recent Attorney General, observes, it is “called by the name of king Charle’s Melon, because he used to carry one in his pocket.”
It is a small melon, only a little larger than a hen’s egg, of a pretty orange and yellow color and a prolific bearer. It is not uncommon for one plant to produce upwards of twenty fruit. They are never eaten but used as perfumery.
For a thorough examination of the many types of melons fit for a colonial garden you are invited to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press) .