Forgotten Foods

Putting Australian native flavours back on the plate

Tales from Garden to Table

Pepino - a melon-flavoured garden gem

Posted on 8 May, 2015 at 2:00 Comments comments (0)



The humble Pepino (Solanum muricatum), is in the same family as the tomato. When trying to grow this in Belgrave I never had any luck as it just wasn't getting enough sun. This year in Kinglake is the first time I have had success with Pepino and I have discovered what a real garden gem it is.

In the right conditions Pepino is a dense, low shrub that grows to about 40cm high but spreads up to 1m wide. Because of its dense growth and large leaves it quite successfully shades out any competing weeds and it actually forms a really attractive low shrub or groundcover with lovely little purple flowers. And when it's happy this guy is a real producer. So far our one little plant has produced in excess of 40 fruit and has only just finished flowering. The other upside is that the fruit ripens when a lot of other fruiting plants have finished so you get something sweet in late autumn.

The fruit starts out green and very much resembles a Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) to which it is closely related. However, the fruit ends up considerably larger than Tamarillo fruit, our biggest weighed around 400g. As the fruit ripens it changes to a pale orange with purple stripes and is quite attractive in the garden in itself.

Pepino fruit have a flavour, colour and texture very similar to that of a rockmelon but are infinitely easier to grow. The thin skin and soft flesh mean that they are easy for kids to eat (skin and all) and they keep surprisingly long once picked. I have had a bowl full sitting on the kitchen bench for two weeks and they are still in excellent condition.

The only downside to these fruit are that they seem to be favoured by caterpillars and occasionally birds but only if they can find them under the dense green foliage. Caterpillars seem to only do minor damage however which can easily be cut out.

So, what to do with Pepinos other than simply enjoy them fresh? Well at the moment I am testing out a batch of Pepino jam. I used 1.5kg chopped Pepino fruit, 800g sugar, about 1 cup of water and the juice of half a lemon. I'm not sure yet whether the sugar content will be enough to set the jam but if not then it will make a lovely syrup as the flavour is really coming through already.