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Skullcap melons are a small to medium-sized varietal and have a round to oval, curved shape. The melon’s rind is thin, firm, and slightly ribbed, giving the surface an indented appearance. The rind also has a textured, semi-rough feel and is covered in variegated dark green to pale green mottled striping. Skullcap melons stay green, even when ripe, and occasionally bear a raised light brown netting. Underneath the surface, the flesh is dark green just below the rind, transitioning into a light green hue towards the center. The flesh is also dense, tender, soft, and aqueous with a succulent, melting texture when ripe. In the center of the flesh, a hollow cavity is filled with ivory oval to tear-drop-shaped seeds suspended between stringy, moist fibers. Skullcap melons release a subtle, pumpkin-like scent and should feel heavy for their size when ripe. Select melons that have a slight give when pressed but do not have any visible dents or cracks. The stem tail should also be dry but not overly dry, a sign of old age. Skullcap melons can be consumed raw and have a mild, sweet, and honeyed taste.
Skullcap melons are available in the summer through early fall in Central Asia.
Skullcap melons, botanically classified as Cucumis melo, are an Uzbek variety belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The cultivar is a seasonal melon grown in limited quantities and valued for its sweet flesh and unusual coloring. Skullcap melon is the English translation of the melon’s native name in Uzbekistan, sometimes translated to Green Skullcap, Kuk Dupli, or Cook Duppy. The variety ripens in approximately 90 days, and growers favor the melons for their ability to withstand drought and heat. Skullcap melons are sold locally throughout Uzbekistan and are rarely exported as they become highly perishable once ripe and have a short shelf life. The variety is also grown in home gardens and by select melon growers throughout Central Asia and is sold through fresh markets as a delicacy. Skullcap melons remain green, even when ripe, and are consumed fresh or dried.
Skullcap melons have not been studied for their nutritional properties. Like other melons from Central Asia, the variety may be a source of vitamin C to boost the immune system, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, and calcium to build strong bones and teeth. The melons may also provide vitamin K to assist in faster wound healing, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, magnesium to control nerve functioning, iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, and other nutrients, including phosphorus, manganese, copper, B vitamins, and folate. In Uzbekistan, melons are believed to increase endorphins in the brain when consumed, which is thought to lower depression and boost happiness. They are also thought to flush the body by helping remove excess fluid.
Skullcap melons have a sweet taste suited for fresh, cooked, and dried preparations. The variety is primarily consumed straight out of hand and is savored for its juicy, succulent, and sweet nature. Skullcap melons can be served in slices or wedges, and it is popular to chill the flesh before serving. The melons are also chopped and served in green salads and fruit medleys, tossed with herbs and chile peppers as a refreshing side dish, or served with cheeses, dried fruits, and cured meats. A customary way to serve Skullcap melons in Uzbekistan is to eat the flesh with warm flatbread. The melons are also eaten with ham, especially prosciutto, or can be blended and frozen into sorbets. Try pureeing Skullcap melons with pineapple and drizzling the mixture over cottage cheese as a breakfast dish. In addition to fresh preparations, Skullcap melons can be simmered into jams, jellies, or syrups. They can also be canned or dried for extended use. Dried melons are prepped into strips, and these strips are left in the sun until concentrated. Dried Skullcap melons can be consumed as a chewy snack, steeped into a tea, or chopped and used in rice-based dishes or desserts. Whole, unopened Skullcap melons have a short shelf life and will only keep up to five days when stored in the refrigerator. It is recommended to immediately consume the variety after purchase for the best quality and flavor.
Skullcap melons were named for their similarity in appearance to the traditional hats worn in Uzbekistan of the same name. The melon often features a small, flat, and protruding bump on the stem end, resembling a skullcap. Skullcap hats have been worn in Uzbekistan for centuries and are used as a part of ceremonial, traditional, and everyday attire. The caps are generally round or square and are decorated with embroidery or beads. Skullcap hats transformed from a traditional accessory to a form of expression in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. New styles, fabrics, colors, and designs were created during this time, and the hats were worn for more than just sun protection. Despite their evolving nature, many hats are still adorned with images of flowers, animals, and leaves as prosperous symbols. Four flowers on the top of the cap are said to protect the wearer’s health on all four sides, and sixteen flowers around the edge of the hat are thought to welcome a large family.
Skullcap melons are native to Uzbekistan and have been cultivated for centuries through local growers. Melons, in general, are believed to have arisen from Central Asia, the center of origin for melons, and melon seeds were discovered in excavations of Toprak-kala, an ancient site in Uzbekistan dating back to the 4th century CE. Melons were extensively cultivated throughout Central Asia, and growers traveled long distances to attend annual melon festivals to share varieties and learn from other growers. Over time, these meetings encouraged advancements in breeding, and the sweet melon cultivars were transported along trade routes, including the Silk Road, to sell varieties throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Skullcap melons are primarily grown in Karshi, also written as Qarshi, an ancient city that lies along a caravan route from Samarkand to Afghanistan. The melon variety is thought to be native to this city and has remained mostly localized to Uzbekistan as a summer crop. Skullcap melons are also cultivated on a small scale by growers in Kazakhstan and are sold in fresh markets. The Skullcap melons featured in the photograph above were sourced through a market in Almaty, Kazakhstan.