Unless you've lived and farmed in the Indian Ocean region, it's safe to say you've never grown a melon like this one. The USDA collected this diverse landrace in the 1980s on the island of Hithadhoo, part of Laamu atoll in the Maldives. When the fruit are still immature, they could be confused with cucumbers and are even used just like cucumbers. They have a pleasing crunch, a mild flavor, and stand up well to pickling, so if used this way, they almost might as well be cucumbers. Indeed, for a while after the seeds were first collected, the USDA thought it was a cucumber and listed it as one in their database. Because this is a diverse landrace, a few different fruit types will become apparent by ripening, but they only look different on the outside (one is pale green with a few stripes running lengthwise, another dappled yellow-orange and green, while the least common is such a pale green it appears almost frosted). The fruit will grow to nearly two feet long when fully ripe.
The white outer flesh of these melons is more or less insipid, but these plants were clearly bred over time for the orange pulp and gel around the seeds. It has a pleasant, mild, sour taste, reminiscent of other melons, but quite unique. The pulp from somewhat similar melons grown in Indonesia is traditionally mixed with sweet fruits and ice and enjoyed as a dessert. Likely the bulk of these ripe melons, once the inner part was removed, were used as animal feed, or as stock for fermenting alcoholic drinks, or perhaps as a vegetable. These plants are incredibly productive and surprisingly early to ripen for a melon, so they can be grown in many places where more typical melons would be challenging. The fruit are prone to splitting upon fully ripening, especially when it's rainy, but they always seem to split along the top, so as long as you get to them in a day or two, the colorful seed gel is still easy to harvest (by pouring it or scooping it directly into a bowl or bucket). With sea levels rising due to climate change, plant varieties from countries like the Maldives and other low-lying places around the world are under grave threat. But this Maldivian variety, at least, due to its sheer beauty, diversity, and versatility, will likely be grown long after the Maldives themselves disappear beneath the waves. Seeds grown ecologically in Elmer, NJ, by the Experimental Farm Network Cooperative.