Whether you call them mouse melons, Mexican sour gherkins, sanditas or by their popular U.S. name, cucamelons, these adorable fruits are the latest in a recent burst of "rediscovered" produce making inroads into American food culture. Originally hailing from Central America, where they've been eaten for centuries, cucamelons look like teensy ripe watermelons but have a unique flavor all their own.
Full-grown cucamelons are not, it should be noted, a hybrid of watermelons and cucumbers, but rather in a genus of their own (Melothria scabra). They're about the size of a ripe grape. The exterior features a thin rind, tender enough that you can pop the whole fruit in your mouth right from the vine. You'll immediately taste a cucumber flavor, one that's doused with a distinctive splash of lemon tartness.
Cucamelons are versatile. You can throw them into a salad just as you would any other bite-sized vegetable, or simply snack on them with salt. Accentuate their tart taste by pickling them, or skewer them and use as a fancy cocktail garnish. Sauteing these little guys with olive oil, salt and pepper is another popular idea. Regardless of preparation, there's no need to slice or peel them, because the rind is tender and mild.
Gardeners regard cucamelon plants as hardy ones that do well outdoors in full sun, as long as they have a trellis or stakes to climb and they receive deep watering once or twice per week. However, they do best in temperatures that don't sink below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). If your nighttime lows drop below 50, you may still be able to grow these vines so long as you opt for containers. If you live in a colder climate and opt to start your seeds indoors, transplant the seedlings only once frost is no longer a concern.
The cucamelon vine measures about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long and bears heavy fruit throughout the summer season. If you live in a warmer climate, the plants may have a chance to produce tubers, which you can then replant the following year – and the plants are known as better producers the second time around.