It's sometimes called a tree melon, but it grows on a 3-foot-tall shrub. It smells like honeydew but tastes like a sweet cucumber. It's a tasty Andean native, both refreshing and pleasantly sweet, but it has never found a large (or very appreciative) audience here in California. A shame, as it's one of the more interesting and least cloying of the fall fruits.
Rancho Santa Cecilia (aka Marquez Farms) out in Carpinteria perseveres, offering the Pepino melon alongside other hard-to-find, locally grown subtropicals like white sapote and strawberry guava (both of which are also currently in season). Its white skin and purple striping causes a little confusion with summer eggplants -- you're forgiven as the eggplant is a distant cousin - but one taste is a refreshing discovery. It is mildly honeylike with a substantial cucumber (hence pepino) taste and smells of summer melons and pears. The darker the striping, the sweeter the fruit, or so the story goes. Enjoy it until the relatives start arriving for Thanksgiving.
Jessica Marquez -- who rotates among the different markets at which her family sells -- says that almost everyone eats the Pepino melon straight and raw for the best flavor, though its fresh sweetness contrasts well with salty and sour flavors. Add the ubiquitous L.A. chili-and-salt combo or dunk into a quick refrigerator pickle.
"You want it to be a little soft," says Marquez, carefully slicing open a ripe Pepino to reveal creamy colored flesh with few to no seeds. "And choose dark stripes on the fruit. It'll ripen up on the counter in a few days."
Once it does ripen, eat it fast, though that won't be a struggle. The Pepino melon doesn't have a long shelf life - three to five days tops, but what it lacks in staying power it makes up for in delectability. Be sure to take a moment to savor the play of delicate flavors.
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Rancho Santa Cecilia is one of the few places that offers the Pepino melon at local markets. You can find them at the Hollywood (Sunday), Venice (Friday) and Encino (Sunday) farmers markets.
Find your local market on our interactive farmers market map.
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