All about Melon



For those that have, or are about to visit central Asia and countries from Turkey across to China see Melons in large quantities.  A fruit well suited to the agricultural systems and conditions it has a become an icon. Rustam Mirzaeve enlightens us to the history of the Melon in relation to his homeland of Uzbekistan.


Probably everyone, who at least once visited the oriental bazaar, heard a seller repeatedly inviting people in a singing voice: By Rustam Mirzaev

Come and try
Melons of mine,
Sweeter than honey,
Worth your money.

It is beyond dispute that watermelon is sweet and savory. However, it cannot be compared with "honey", whereas melon has a right to rival honey. As soon as you leave a cut melon, wasps immediately fly to feast on the mouth-watering pulp. They suck the sweet juice so greedily one cannot drive them away.

A ripe melon should give off a sweet smell, be a bit heavy and when gently knocked, should make a "clunk" sound.

Uzbekistan is said to be famous for its melons, reputedly some of the best in the world. Farmers of the Khorezm, Bukhara, Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Tashkent and Ferghana oases were well known amongst Silk Road travelers for their agricultural skills. Over the centuries local farmers have created different varieties of melons that can vary in size, form, coloration and of course their flavour - from pineapple to vanilla.
The climate of Uzbekistan with long hot summers fit well with such a heat-loving plant. The well developed root system accommodates itself well to irrigated lands. Even the saline soils of the Khorezm and Bukhara regions do not inhibit the growth of melons. Melon cultivation requires much labour. Following the planting of seed it usually takes a three to four month period to maturity.

Central Asia is considered the homeland of melon and is thought to have been grown here for more than two thousand years. From ancient Chinese chronicles it is known that in the beginning of some seeds of the melon were brought to China from the banks of the Oxus and the Yaksart (Syr Darya and Amu Darya) along the Great Silk Road.

Melon has been known in Europe since the Roman Empire. Images of melons can be found on frescos within the Vatican. During the Middle Ages melon began to be cultivated in Arabian countries where it was treated with great respect and believed to be a, paradise fruit, brought down to the Earth by an archangel. In the 16th century, firstly the French started cultivation of this plant with the practice then spreading to other European countries including England where farmers used greenhouses to grow melons. In the 17th century Russia adopted the experience. In Moscow, during the reign of the Russian Czar Alexey Mikhailovich, greenhouses were built for the cultivation of melons.

Today in Uzbekistan there are more than 160 varieties of melons with the origin of some being traced back into antiquity. Specialists consider the Khorezmian melons to be the best. In the 14th century the prominent Arabian traveler 'Ibn Battuta' wrote, "No melon can be compared with the Khorezmian ones, except, maybe, for the melons from Bukhara and those from Isfagan. Their skin is green, and the pulp is red; they are very sweet, yet hard".

Each region of Uzbekistan is famous for its own sort of melon. In early June almost every city market has the fast-ripening variety Handalyak. An then a little later - Assate. The honey-like Ich-Kyzyl and Shakar-Palak varieties ripen in July. During August one can enjoy the Bekzod variety and then in September the bazaars are filled with the late-ripening winter varieties of melon which keep their taste qualities untill April -May of the next year. These are the more famous varieties of Gulyabi, Kara-Kaun, Koy-Bash, Umirvaki, Kara-Gyz.

Throughout the winter, melons are preserved according to an old method where they are put into straw or thread net bags and then hung from the ceiling of a special warehouse called a "kaun-khana", or buried in dry sand.

To discuss all the known and reputed properties of the melon would take much time. Firstly, melon is appreciated for its remarkable taste and unique diet characteristics. Aromatic, soft melons are the best for desserts. Juicy, sweet-scented melon pulp contain digestible sugar, starch, proteins, vitamins, cellulose, pectin, organic acids, and various mineral salts. Melon contain a range of iron and potassium salts. It is also believed to be beneficial as a medicinal nourishment for the treatment of anemia, cardiovascular disorder, liver and kidney diseases, gout and rheumatism.  Melons also contains a lot of vitamin C. Melons are well used in the region as a remedy to rejuvenate your body. Locals say that the "melon makes your hair bright, eyes young, lips fresh, wishes and desires intense, abilities realizable; it helps men to be desired and women to be beautiful".
As a rule melon is eaten uncooked, in its natural state. But one can also make jam, honey, jam, jellies from melon. It can also be stewed and candied. Dried melon is a delicatessen for adults and a favourite for children. It is worth to mention that Venetian merchant Marco Polo wrote about dried melon in his book "Description of the World", which is an account of his travels along the Great Silk Road. "They (pieces of melon) are preserved as follows: a melon is sliced, just as we do with pumpkin, then these slices are rolled and dried in the sun; and finally they are sent for sale to other countries, where they are in great demand for they are as sweet as honey". These thousand-year-old methods of preserving melon are popular to this very day, and sweet slices of dried melon easily melt in your mouth just as they did in the ancient time.

In Uzbekistan every festive meal cannot do without appetizing slices of melon. Anyone who once tried this aromatic sweet dainty will never forget its delicious taste.