Fall in Love with Bitterness

Bitter Melon… the name itself puts a lot of people off.  Many people in regions where it can grow year round don’t eat them because of the bitter taste.  At the same time many people who tried them fall in love with that bitterness and the heady after taste.  We include ourselves.  I have since childhood, in any type of cooking: in soup, stir flied, par boil with dip and in curry dish.  Then I got Bill hooked on them.  We have been looking forward every summer to our first bitter melon dish of the season.  I can feel its taste in my mouth just thinking about it.  It makes my mouth water.

Our neighbor disagreed at first.  We gave some to her another year, but she didn’t like it.  She diplomatically referred to it as an “acquired taste.”  I prepared a couple of dishes for her later on, soup and stir fried with egg, then she said it was interesting.  She will take some melons this year on condition that I show her how to prepare it.

This year we grew only one type, the greener, shorter, bumpier looking and more bitter type of the melon.  We used to grow the larger, lighter and milder type as well but it didn’t do well.  Maybe because we grew them next to one another and they cross pollinated.  The shorter type seemed to have  a stronger gene.  It turned the longer one to a half grown size and more bitter than usual.  We may try again next year but grow them on the opposite side of the garden.  We may also ask the bees to please not cross-pollinate them this time.

Greener and more bitter

I was surprised to learn that bitter melon has been around in the US since Colonial time.  Back then they grew it as a decorative vine for cottage gardens.  I can imagine why.  The canary yellow flower of the melon stands out from the green toothed foliage, and the fragrance is exceptionally sweet.

Canary yellow with sweet fragrance

When I was in the garden, especially in the morning when the fragrance is strongest, it’s very soothing. The bright yellow of ripe fruit when it splits open is such a contrast with the bright red seeds inside.  It’s also a sight to see.  We don’t see this sight that often since we always picked the fruit when they were still green.  You can’t eat the ripe one; it will make you sick.

Pretty, but you shouldn't eat this.

Well, it’s not just a pretty looking vine.  You can eat every part of it, except the ripe yellow fruit.  Throughout Asia, it is well known as a medicinal plant.  Leaves and the unripe fruit are good for combating diabetes. I knew this fact years ago because my mother did research on this subject among others at her pharmacology department.

Mentioning bitter melon to colleagues at work, they all have their own recipes,  Needless to say, I’m begging them for their recipes.  I want to try as many different ways of preparing bitter melon as I can find.  I’ll share all that I get with you.