01 April 2011

Little Jack's Melon Patch

Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

“Little Jack’s melon patch is doing wonders this year. The boy thinks his fortune is made, for our market gardener saw his big “nutmegs” yesterday, and offered him a good round price for every one Jack will sell him. 

The little fellow followed grandpa’s advice last spring. I gave him a piece of sandy ground, well plowed, and he marked it out 9 by 9 feet. Then with  a hoe, grandpa advised him to dig holes at the crossing of the marks about as large in circumference as a common corn basket, and seven or eight inches deep. Into these holes a good-size forkful of coarse manure was thrown; then directly upon this, a large shovel of fine manure. The hills were made afterward by drawing the soil from the four corners.”
[Leavitt’s Almanac]

This very first installment of Agrarian Nation is excerpted from the August Farmer's Calendar essay in Leavitt's 1873 almanac. We are presented with a delightful story about “little Jack” who followed his grandfather’s advice and grew some real nice melons. But the comment about big “nutmegs” was confusing to me. Is “nutmegs” an old word for melons?

Well, the answer to this came to me a couple months ago as I was perusing my way through the Baker Creek seed catalog. My eyeballs skidded to a stop on Green Nutmeg Melon, and I read this description”

Fearing Burr said in 1863, “The Nutmeg Melon has long been in cultivation, and is almost everywhere to be found in the vegetable garden... It is of most delicious excellence... one of the best.” It is a medium-size green-fleshed melon that has a heavily netted skin and rich, sweet, delicious flesh with heavy aroma.

The picture at the top of today's Agrarian Nation excerpt is from the Baker Creek web site.  Those nutmeg melons are probably just like the ones little Jack grew 138 years ago.

How could I not buy a packet of seed from the good folks at Baker Creek? Perhaps you would want to do the same. We can all follow Grandpa’s advice and, hopefully, grow some nutmegs as good as Little Jack’s. If I am successful at this gardening adventure, I’ll post here later in the year with the results.

By the way, I found an online dictionary with this definition for nutmeg melon: 

“A muskmelon vine with fruit that has a thin reticulated rind and sweet green flesh.”

Then I happened upon this Wikipedia entry about the “Montreal Nutmeg Melon,” and learned that particular heirloom melon variety was...

“in its prime from the late 19th century until World War II. It was one of the most popular varieties of melon on the east coast of North America. The fruit was large (larger than any other melon cultivated on the continent at the time), round, netted (like a muskmelon), flattened at the ends, deeply ribbed, with a thin rind. Its flesh was light green, almost melting in the mouth when eaten. Its spicy flavor was reminiscent of nutmeg.
The melon disappeared as Montreal grew. Its delicate rind, suitable for the family farm, was ill-suited to agribusiness. But after a couple of generations, it was rediscovered in a seed bank maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, in 1996 and is currently enjoying a renaissance amongst Montreal-area gardeners.”

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Agrarian Nation. Not every posting here will contain as much comment from me as this one. Be sure to stop back three days from now to read a selection of Farmer's Calendar excerpts for the month of April.
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Trixi said...

I believe I will be trying this variety of melon from Baker's Creek this year. Thanks for all the info.

Jonnyjumpup said...

I too have ordered seeds from Baker Creek for a planting or two this year! Great blog, Very interesting information. Looking forward to more posts!!

Herrick Kimball said...

Great. Let's all compare nutmegs later in the season. :-)

Arleen said...

Last year, mine were yummy.

Anonymous said...

I have ordered several seed packets of veggies/flowers from Baker's Creek. They have all germinated and are growing well. I will continue to use Baker's Creek as I love heirloom seeds; they are inexpensive and are more successful than any other seed provider I have tried. We'll be saving all our seeds this year for next year!