“It’s a pepino plant,” she announced. “A sweet cucumber,” My neighbor handed me a tiny 4-inch cutting she had started in a 4” pot. I wasn’t sure how grateful I was but I’m always willing to give a plant a try. It took some research, and a year of growing for me to appreciate this unique little producer.
Pepinos (Solanum muricatum) are native to the temperate Andean areas of Chile and Peru. It is also cultivated in regions of South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S..
Pepino means “cucumber” and is also known as “pepino dulce” or “sweet cucumber” or “tree melon”. In reality is not a cucumber or melon but is classified as a berry within the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants). The plant is a perennial and grows to about 3’ in height and width in our climate (larger in warmer regions). It blossoms here along the coast nearly continuously with pretty purple and white clusters of blooms.
The “beauty” of the pepino is in its skin and flesh. It’s pale green or golden streaked with purple variegation. When you cut the pepino open its flesh is golden-yellow with a seed cavity like a melon. Its taste is sweet and aromatic and is flavored like a combination of a banana, pear, and cantaloupe.
The skin of the pepino is edible. If you leave it on the plant too long the skin becomes tough but is easily peeled away. It can be served in salads and paired with lemons, limes, basil, honey, chilies, or coconut. It keeps for days at room temperature on the counter, or it can be stored in the refrigerator.
This unusual plant is a bit of a conversation piece among the ordinary plants in my garden. While it wouldn’t feed a “cast of thousands”, it produces enough pepinos to add flavor to salads or can be served cubed in a little dish, drizzled with honey and a dollop of yogurt.