It’s July, mid winter in
: a mix of sunny days in the 60s, rain in the 50s and cloudy days in between. Not like mid winter in Santiago , but it’s still winter. Illinois
The feria (“farmer’s market,” thought the vendors are not farmers) is no longer full of peaches, membrillos, melons, papayas, corn and cranberry beans; though some summer crops (tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, etc.) from northern Chile and Peru are still available. Instead we have lots of spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel bulls,
sprouts, beets, and so on; no cause for complaint, but the fruit is a little limited. Below is my recent haul: you recognize citrus, apples, pears, avocados, tomatoes, grapes, kiwis, and bananas. But what are the odd purple and yellow things in the right front of the basket? Brussels
They are pepinos dulces (Solanum muricatum), literally “sweet cucumbers,” but marketed in English as ”pepinos” or “pepino melons,” and incidentally the only fruit in the basket domesticated in South America.
More closely related to tomatoes and eggplant than cucumbers, pepinos are sweet, juicy and refreshing, similar in texture and taste to honeydew melons. When ripe, as in the picture above, they are firm and turn from green to yellowish. They peel easily with a vegetable peeler, and the soft core can be removed with a paring knife. Here in
they are available year round at reasonable prices; currently between 500 and 1000 CLP/kg ($.45 - .90/lb). Chile
It is usually something of a struggle to learn about the origins and history of Chilean foods, but pepinos evidently have their fans. In 1996 professors Jaime Prophens, Juan J. Ruiz, and Fernando Nuez of the Department of Biotechnology, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain published “The Pepino (Solanium mumcarvm, Solanaceae): A "new" crop with a history” in Economic Botany [50(4):355-368] telling us all we want to know (and perhaps more) about the pepino.
They report that pepinos, called cachum in Quechua, were domesticated in the
Andes sometime before 500 BC, when ceramic representations of the fruit appear in the archaeological record.
The Spanish were favorably impressed, and named them pepinos, “cucumbers” due evidently to the taste of the green fruit, and perhaps because of their shape—some were longer than round. Jesuit José de Acosta wrote:
Some of them, the majority, have the length and round similar to cucumbers from Spain, but in the rest they differ, because their colour is not green, but purple, or yellow, or white... and although because of their shape they are called pepinos, most of them are round in all, and others are of a different shape, in such a way, that neither the shape do they have of cucumber.
Francisco Pizarro, was also an admirer: .
And there is another fruit that these Indians call cachan that we, the Spanish, have given the name pepino [cucumber], because when they are green they have in a way the flavor of cucumber… It is a ripe fruit so soft and sweet that one could not speak more highly of anything…. It has a ollexito [peel?] like paper, removing this ollexito there is nothing more to desire. [my translation] .
Later, during the 17th century, pepinos suffered a strange fate, presumably because of their Spanish name. In Spanish folklore cucumbers are reputed to cause death if eaten after drinking liquor, thus under Peruvian Viceroy Melchor de Navarra Indians were forbidden to “comer pepinos” (eat cucumbers/pepinos) and pepinos came to be called mataserranos, “highlander killers.” 
Professor Prophens and his colleagues also report that: .
As cucumber is also said to be hard to digest, the same was attributed to pepino. This caused pepino consumption to be restricted to Indians, this fact leading to a "social marginalization" of pepino. For example, the chronicler Cobo wrote that "it is not a refined fruit of those having an appeal and esteemed by dainty people, because it is thought to be hard to digest." And in the late 18th century, the botanist Ruiz mentioned another false negative property of pepino, writing that "if many are eaten, they cause fevers and blood stools."
And they suggest that these beliefs—along with some cultivation problems--may explanation the failure of pepinos to spread much beyond the
Andes. They are cultivated in New Zealand, and have been exported to Japan at high prices, but in spite of their introduction to much of Europe and North Africa in the 18th century and to California in the 19th they have achieved little popularity outside South America.
Specialty Produce, the web site of a
based produce distributor comments that: San Diego
The extremely pale flavor of the Pepino melon does not yet seem to fit in with American tastes although many agree its fragrance is memorable. The Japanese especially value this low-key fruit. In South America and
, the pepino is enjoyed just as it is, that's it. Japan cuisine serves it every way imaginable, as a garnish for soups, fish, or meats; sauced; with prosciutto; as a seafood and fruit salad ingredient; and in desserts. New Zealand
It’s a shame they have not achieved greater popularity because they are an attractive fruit, tasty (I don’t find the flavor to be “pale”), low in calories and higher in vitamin C than most citrus—and they would be a valuable addition to the Chilean and Peruvian export economies.
Meanwhile, if you are
 The wild ancestor of the tomato seems to be Peruvian, but evidently the plant was transported to
where it was domesticated. There is no evidence of tomato cultivation in Mexico prior to the Spanish Conquest. Smith, Andrew F (1994). The tomato in Peru : early history, culture, and cookery. America Columbia, S.C, USA: as quoted in Wikipedia, Tomato, online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomato. Avocados were domesticated in University of South Carolina Press Mexico but spread to South America by 900 AD. Galindo-Tovar, Marca ElenaOgata-Aguilar, NisaoArzate-FerncLndez, Amaury M. 2008 Some aspects of avocado (Persea americana Mill.) diversity and domestication in Mesoamerica. Genetic resources and crop evolution. Vol.55 (No.3) . on line at http://www.wlbcenter.org/drawer/journalclub/Galindo-Tovar%20et%20al%20208.pdf
 Acosta, J. 1987. Historia natural y moral de las Indias. Vol. 1. Hispano-Americana de Publicaciones, Sevilla, Spain as quoted in Prohens, Jaime; Juan J. Ruiz, and Fernando Nuez. 1996. The Pepino (Solanium Mumcarum, Solanaceae): A "New" Crop with a History. Economic Botany 50(4):355-368 on line at http://www.springerlink.com/content/41t281268876738x/
 Romero Gualda, María Victoria. 1983. Indoamericanismos Léxicos En La Crónica De Pedro Pizarro. Thesaurus: Boletín del instituto Caro y Cuervo, Tomo 38, Nº 1:1-34, on line at http://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/thesaurus/pdf/38/TH_38_001_001_1.pdf
 Hernández Bermejo, J.E. and J. León. 1994. Neglected crops 1492 from a different perspective. Pepino: Solanium Mumcarum. On line at http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0646e/T0646E0i.htm
Thanks for stopping by my blog to say hello and thanks for the recipe.
Your blog is great, I'm having so much fun learning about the food I grew up eating. My grand mother was a wonderful chilean comfort cook.
Thanks - I’m enjoying your blog too… A Chilena curiosa writing from Houston Texas: En Mi Cocina Hoy (http://enmicocinahoy.blogspot.com/). Wonderful that you are trying latkes and I will have to try your charaquican de pollo.
Best wishes - Jim
Hi Jim. Is this sweet pepino the fruit from a copihue plant?ReplyDelete
Nope. The copihue is Lapageria rosea. But its fruit is also known as pepino.ReplyDelete
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapageria_rosea: "The fruit is an elongate berry with a tough skin containing numerous small seeds about the size of a tomato seed, and are covered in an edible fleshy aril. In the wild the plant is pollinated by hummingbirds. Seed is distributed by birds and other animals.
The fruit is colloquially known in Chile as a pepino (cucumber). In the past, the fruit was sold in markets, but the plant has now become rare through over-collection and forest clearance."