(65 days) F-1 hybrid. Bright pastel-green bumps and fluting cover the curvaceous lines of this well-named 8–14" beauty, looking every bit the jade dragon. Botanically, it is neither a melon nor a gourd. Don’t be put off by the English name ‘bitter melon’—instead, think balsam pear of Asia or karela of India, where it is a well-regarded tropical vegetable with rich flavor and pleasing bitterness. Long prized for its medicinal qualities, both the leaves and fruits are used as antivirals and to reduce blood-sugar levels. The leaves can be made into tea or cooked as greens. To prepare fruit for cooking, first scoop out the pulpy core. Elisabeth likes to sauté bitter melon in butter and have it for breakfast with eggs and rice. I have a friend who makes it a delicious centerpiece of his Solstice Feast.
Through the wonders of modern breeding, we can enjoy a variety that has been adapted to our climate. Juniper Farm, in Quebec north of the 45th parallel, trialed 7 varieties and declared this one the best: early, productive (with about 3 fruits per plant) and oh so beautiful, “a gift to grow.” This truly versatile plant deserves more attention. Plant in the warmest spot in your garden or hoophouse, and use a trellis for straight fruit. ③
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