Posted on 2 Comments

The Snake Melons

What is an snake melon? What is an Armenian cucumber?

Similar to other muskmelons, Snake melons are from the species Cucumis melo, but instead of the melon being a round sweet fruit that is consumed when ripe, snake melons are long savory fruit that are picked immature and consumed as cucumbers. Snake melons are a variety of Cucumis melo called flexuous. The term flexuous means “full of bends and curves” and is synonymous with the word “curvy”. Unlike the United States and Canada, most countries have their own name for this unripe melon, which – in the local vernacular – means the same thing as what we call an “Armenian cucumber”.

While the stereotypical snake melon is light-green long and curvy, not all of them are. They come in a variety of lengths, colors and patterns. There are some that are dark green, striped, splotchy, extra long and thin, short and some that are so light that they are nearly white.

The Light Armenian Cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
The Light Armenian Cucumber compared with the Dark Armenian Cucumber (both Cucumis melo var flexuous)

Why are snake melons often called “Armenian” Cucumbers?

Armenian Cucumbers are mainly called that because they were brought by Armenian immigrants into the central valley of California somewhere between the late 1800s and early 1900s and became well known afterwards. While they are called “Armenian cucumbers” in the United States, these melons (Cucumis melo) that are picked immature as cucumbers have a long history dating back to ancient Egypt and were once the primary type of cucumber in much of the world. Many countries (and sometimes different regions within a country) have their own name for this type of cucumber.

The Dark Armenian Cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese is a Cucumis Melo cucumber
Slices of the Dark Armenian cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese cucumber (C. melo)

How do you know when to Pick a snake melon or Armenian cucumber?

Picking an snake melon is similar to picking a zucchini or any slender summer squash. The easiest way to determine when to pick an snake melon is by the diameter. Armenian cucumbers are usually most palatable when between 1-2 inches in diameter. The goal is to pick a crisp, yet slightly tender juicy cucumber. If picked too early, the fruit can be a bit dry yet somewhat tender while if it is picked later the fruit can be quite juicy but more firm and crunchy than a carrot. It is important to check the vines often for fruit because the ideal window of time for picking is usually only a few days. If the fruit is left on to mature for seed, the vines tend to siphon their strength into existing fruit for seed production instead of producing more fruit.

The Painted Serpent or Striped Armenian (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
Slices of the Striped Armenian, or Painted Serpent Cucumber
The Facussa is a very rare snake melon from Carloforte in Sardinia, Italy