Monday, November 12, 2018

The Bitterest of Gourds

The bitter melon has many names and its other name bitter gourd are used interchangeably.  Some of the most common names are : African Cucumber, Ampalaya, Balsam Pear, Balsam-Apple, Bitter Cucumber, Bitter Gourd,  Karela, Kareli, Korolla, Kuguazi, K'u-Kua, Lai Margose, Margose, Mel√≥n Amargo, Melon Amer, Momordica, Momordica charantia, Momordica murcata, Momordique, Paroka, and Pepino Montero, just to name a few. Its botanical name is Momordica charantia and it originated in India.  Its popularity and use has spread all over southeast Asia and beyond. 

The bitter melon tastes exactly as its name states think a broken aspirin, uncured olive, apple seed, or grapefruit rind. It looks like a warty cucumber; when sliced in half, there is a spongy white pith that is easily scooped out with a spoon.  The seeds are also removed before preparation, however, if you grew up eating this type of gourd, the nostalgia can be very strong.  Most people either love the flavor or straight up hate it.  Its reverence is akin to the love or hate of durian. 

One of our gardeners, grew a bounty of this melon, he shared some with me and although I prepared it in more than one way, my children turned their noses up at it.  This "hot crop" must be treated like tomatoes and peppers.  Since it is hard to find in retail outlets, one has to start the plants from seed. Once the seedlings are hardened off, they must be protected from cool weather and planted out when the nighttime temperatures are at least 55F at night. Maintain evenly warm temperatures, even watering, and feed at least once at planting time and once again when the flowers set. Once the fruit starts to come, pick them when they are firm and the size of supermarket slicing cucumbers.