These edible, very bitter gourds have been a really interesting addition to the HDG Vegetable Test Garden. With wild 2021 weather, I was not confident these would make their debut this year. Fortunately they did, and they were a hit!
Improper Seed Starting: My first attempt at germinating seeds was unsuccessful as I did not properly scarify seeds. These hard seed coats require a nick to get started easily. Some seeds did eventually germinate from the first try, but they were transplanted before a 10 day rain storm in May which rotted the roots.
Proper Seed Starting: The second attempt was a success! I started plants indoors with easy seed germination after scarifying seeds. Seedlings stayed under grow lights a couple weeks before being transferred outside in the heat to acclimate and harden off (roughly beginning of June).
Easy Care Garden Addition: Daytime temps were ranging from 85-95 degrees with more rain than usual in Zone 8b/9a in NW Houston, Texas for June, so I decided to plant hardened off plants at dusk after light rain and with a cloudy forecast the next day. I don’t have a built in irrigation for the garden, and instead, I try to use normal rainfall with minor hand watering while I weed beds. So, planting like this was important for me because I was late getting started due to the first attempt failing and too busy with work to care for the plants properly in the heat. Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind my neglect!
Surprisingly Easy to Grow in Summer Drought: Small plants were slow to take off until temperatures were firmly in the 90’s with a lot of sun in addition to the heat. They have only been growing in ground about 2 months, and I’ve had a few fruit from only 1 plant with many on the way. A third attempt at planting late is now flowering.
This Bitter Melon along with Gourds, a few melons, and Okra were my final attempt after 9 years at trying to get something to grow easily during summer that also would produce food in summer, and this is definitely a winner. At the very least, it has been a huge hit with children that have taken a tour of the test garden because of the interesting texture, bright color, and gooey seeds.
Disclaimer: Talk to your doctor before consuming. There are limitations to this food and differing information online. Most of what I found indicates not enough scientific research is available but it could cause gastrointestinal distress among other issues and to talk to your doctor before consuming. I do not offer this to my guests for this reason, but as this is in the HDG Test Garden, I still planned to try it in various recipes.
Cooking: My research didn’t yield a lot of help on how to cook these or when to pick until I searched YouTube for recipes from various cultural backgrounds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed’s YouTube (the company I bought the seeds from) indicates picking is at the green stage, but this was not the ideal time for my taste buds or stomach (per the previous disclaimer)! So, I waited to pick at later stages to test it out. The trick with getting the picking stage at the right time is to check TWICE a day. My fruits will go from half ripe in the evening to fully ripe and bursting open by morning. Partially ripe fruit will also have the ripe inside red around the seed I mentioned but not quiet as gooey and sweet while the outside is still firm enough to use in stuffed recipes. I found as the outside ripens, the bitterness reduces (although still very bitter). After my original error of taste testing at the recommended young, unripe green stage, I researched other YouTube channels and found many people who had cultural backgrounds that used this fruit were picking and eating at the ripe stage (bright orange). For the same reason I noticed, the taste was less bitter, and the gooey “pouch” of sweet red around the seeds was edible (don’t eat the seeds). Wendi Phan’s channel has a great video on 3 different recipes with ripe bitter melon that is worth watching. The simplest way to prepare in a time crunch is to toss in a hot pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic!
Grocery Store Finds: Green Bitter Melon is easy to find in stores especially large Asian marketplaces. I suspect that most people don’t know the bitter melon ripens to yellow/orange because it is found in stores green and unripe. It is firm and stores better when green, but once it is fully ripe, it practically explodes apart to distribute seeds. Not a great look on the grocery store shelf! Just like many other very tasty fruits not found in stores (such as a Cashew Nut Fruit), this clearly isn’t going to ship and store well.
So, if you want to try this ripe fruit, make space on the garden trellis and give it shot! If the taste is not for you, though, this gourd is still a fast growing, pest and disease resistant, space saving, creepy, warty alternate option instead of a classic gourd pumpkin for Halloween!