There are a few stars in my vegetable garden every year, and for the first time ever, a melon is on the list. Although I usually grow a cantaloupe variety or two, this year I tried a Piel de Sapo variety called Lambkin, and I was not disappointed.
Lambkin is a hybrid Piel de Sapo melon and was an All American Selections winner in 2009. Piel de Sapo translates as “skin of the toad,” so I was expecting the rind of this variety to be bumpy and unattractive, but I found the opposite to be true. The smooth skin is mottled with gold and green, and the flesh inside is greenish white, a little paler than honeydew. Lambkin is one of the most delicious melons I’ve ever tasted. It’s juicy and sweet with a small seed cavity.
Piel de Sapo melons are said to have a very long shelf life, earning them the nicknames “Christmas melon” and “Santa Claus melon.” They can be kept on a shelf at room temperature for six or more weeks, though like most other melons, they must ripen on the vine.
The majority of Piel de Sapo melons are quite large, reaching 1 foot long with an oval shape, but Lambkin is a miniature-sized selection. Each fruit weighs only 2 to 4 pounds. Full-sized varieties require a very long growing season of at least 110 days, but Lambkin only needs 75, meaning in northern climates, you won’t have to start the seeds indoors in order to get fruit in northern climates. I sowed a few Lambkin seeds directly into my Pennsylvania garden on May 30 and harvested my first fruit on August. Each plant yielded three or four fruits.
Piel de Sapo melons originated in Spain, where they are very popular. Here in the U.S., these melons and their yellow-colored cousin, the canary melon, are starting to regularly appear on grocery store shelves. I’ve enjoyed store-bought melons many times but have never grown my own before. After tasting Lambkin, I now know I will grow them every year without fail.
Unlike some other melons, which slip off the vine and are highly fragrant when ripe, the tougher rind of Piel de Sapo melons prevents the tell-tale aroma from escaping the ripe fruits, and the fruit stays connected to the vine. I’ve found that the best way to tell when the melons are ready for harvest is to take note of the skin, which turns yellow when it’s ripe. The blossom end will be slightly soft, and the leaf nearest the stem will start to turn brown—that’s when I cut the melon from the vine and take it into the kitchen.
While the still-warm flesh of a freshly picked Lambkin melon is delicious, I much prefer to eat it at room temperature. And I think they have the best flavor when left on the counter for a few days before cutting.
Next year, I’m going to grow these melons up a trellis instead of allowing them to run along the ground. The vines are not long—each one spreads only about 5 or 6 feet away from its base—but keeping them off the ground will hopefully help keep the squash bugs away and will save me some precious real estate.