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Oriental Pickling Cucumber Melon
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Oriental Pickling melons are slender fruits, averaging 20 to 30 centimeters in length and 8 to 10 centimeters in diameter, and have a cylindrical, elongated shape with rounded ends. The skin is shiny, smooth, thin, and pale green, with some varieties bearing faint green-yellow stripes. Underneath the surface, the flesh is pale green to white and is crisp, aqueous, and firm, encasing many small seeds that are flat, pale yellow, and bitter. Oriental Pickling melons are crunchy with a mild, sweet, and subtly sour flavor. When cooked, the melon retains its firm and crisp consistency and has a neutral taste, often absorbing other flavors.
Oriental Pickling melons are available in the fall through early spring.
Oriental Pickling melons, botanically classified as Cucumis melo var. conomon, are elongated fruits that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. There are many different varieties of Oriental Pickling melons that are generally labeled and cultivated across Asia, and the fruits have been traditionally fermented into pickles as a method of preservation. Oriental Pickling melons were once widely produced, but in the modern-day, the art of pickling foods has greatly diminished due to refrigerators and the ability to store fresh foods quickly. The fruits are primarily found in home gardens and local markets throughout Asia.
Oriental Pickling melons are a good source of potassium, which can help regulate fluid levels in the body and contain vitamins A, C, and B. The fruits also provide some iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Oriental Pickling melons are best suited for pickled and cooked applications such as stir-frying, simmering, and sautéing. The fruits are primarily selected when young and firm and are used similarly to vegetables in stir-fries, curries, and stews. It is recommended to remove the seeds before cooking as the seeds can introduce a bitter taste to the dish if heated. Oriental Pickling melons can also be blended fresh into a drink, chopped and tossed into salads, or cooked into sambars and chutney. In addition to cooked applications, Oriental Pickling melons are fermented into pickles and are consumed as an accompaniment to rice dishes, stews, soups, noodle dishes, and vegetables. In Japan, the pickles are commonly known as narazuke and are steeped in a marinade made of sake lees. Oriental Pickling melons pair well with mushrooms, eggplant, pine nuts, chile peppers, tamarind, meats such as poultry, beef, or pork, tofu, miso soup, beer, and sake. The fresh melons will keep up to one month when stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
In Japan, Katsura-uri is an Oriental Pickling melon heirloom variety that is deeply connected to the culture and history of Kyoto. Melons are seen as a cooling food in traditional medicines and are also used to help improve digestion. The practice of pickling melons in Japan dates back to ancient times, and the melons were so highly valued that they were grown at the Katsura Imperial Villa in the 17th century. Constructed by Prince Toshihito, the Katsura Imperial Villa is considered to be one of the grandest examples of Japanese architecture and design, and the villa has an expansive garden where the imperial family would often visit a field of Katsura-uri to observe the stages of ripening. Oriental Pickling melons are also featured at Gion-Matsuri, which is a traditional summer festival held in July in Kyoto. The pickled Katsura-uri is a favorite snack and side dish to meals during the celebration and is believed to be a food that honors the celebrated shrine of the festival.
Oriental Pickling melons are native to Asia and have been growing wild since ancient times. There are many different varieties of Oriental Pickling melons that have been traditionally cultivated in India, China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia, and the melons were even mentioned in a Chinese text dating back to 560 BCE. Today Oriental Pickling melons are widely cultivated throughout Asia, especially in Japan, Taiwan, and China and can be found through local markets and in home gardens.