Monday, August 22, 2011


No, not that Goya, the big-G Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, the renowned Spaniard who painted such works as The Third of May 1808 or Saturn Devouring His Son and who sadly never in life tasted the small-g goya that is this ramble's subject, also called the bitter melon, which originated somewhere in the tropics, has long been enjoyed throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and could, I don't see why not, also be grown and enjoyed in the USA but isn't yet, as far as I know.

Now that we're past that bizarre but subjectively necessary opening sentence I can get right to the topic at hand, the wondrous goya. I first tasted that crisp and uniquely astringent fruit (the bitterest on the planet, Wiki says) on Okinawa in the early 1960s. After leaving Okinawa I didn't have goya again for decades, since it was then unknown and ungrown in the USA. Even when I came back to Japan, the wonderful veg was unavailable in central Japanese supermarkets until a few years ago, but by then I was growing my own. It's one of those produce items that has to grow from low-class food to high cuisine.

The reason I'm rambling about this now is because on Saturday, after two non-gardening days spent in the big city where little grows, I found that those many little tiny baby cucumber-sized goya had, in the two rainless days since, grown to include 4 full-sized gourds hanging there in hefty beauty. Goya don't fool around when it comes to growth and prolificity, they don't sometimes curl up to hide behind leaves and try to avoid being seen, like cucumbers do, they just hang there on their strong vines, heavy and straight down, saying Here! Here I am! I'm ready, pick me! Went out again this morning and among the 2 dozen or so small to midsizers yet on their way to maturity, 4 more had grown to size overnight! For just a few seeds and a high vine-climbable surface with southern exposure, you can have them all! Fresh! And tasty! And property/action rich!

Because I put up the high net fence (ca 3 meters) (and thereby tripled my growing area!) I began to grow climbers there-- cucumbers, pumpkins, climbing squashes, runner beans -- cukes love getting up so high, waving their tendrils around to bring their bright yellow blossoms even higher, but the goya has a special wild viney quality about it, it grows left and right and up and down, covering the whole surface. This year I planted just two plants, about two meters apart, at the foot of the northern wall, and those two alone cover the entire wall and beyond (one vine reached out and got into the chestnut tree!) with palm-sized translucent jade green leaves, here and there a butter-yellow blossom that more often than not turns into a tiny greening gourd that grows like blazes; this morning I harvested four of the biggest ones (well over a foot long; they biggen fast, the biggerer the bitterer). Now there are about two dozen of all sizes remaining, with about 6 weeks of growing time left to go!

The bitter melon is also a beautiful plant. Hardy as well, once it gets going. And the gourds. Crunchy, nice bitterness, they don't dissolve into a mush, great in salads, stir fries, tempura etc. I bet Western chefs are about to come out with some great new goya discoveries. As for the health aspects, the bitter melon is pretty miraculous; Dr. Wiel praises goya too, it is a wondrous health veg full of salubrious goodies yet to be detailed, or even discovered!

Todd also provides a link to lots of good-looking recipes


Todd V said...

Great post! I'm really looking forward to having some huge goya vines next season--this year, though, we're receiving as many as we need and more, and happily eating them. I just posted with some recipes, if you're interested.

Robert Brady said...

Thanks Todd; just added the great links. Also added your site to my blogroll. Gonna go have some goya for dinner now.

Todd said...

Hey, thank you! I've done the same. ;)