Ever intrigued by garden oddities, I've grown purple potatoes, black tomatoes and even plucked fiddleheads from the ferns growing in the shady portion of the backyard. Truth be told, the potatoes were good, the tomatoes tasty but unappetizing, and the fiddleheads, blech! But those are just my opinions. Backyard gardeners and farmers all over the world grow and enjoy fruits and vegetables that others might consider unusual, either in a good -- or inedible -- way. Here are five that might intrigue you.
MOUSE MELON (melothria scabra): These adorable fruits, native to Mexico, look like miniature, grape-size watermelons, but their flavor is more akin to cucumbers with a splash of citrus. You might find their seeds marketed as "cucamelon" or "Mexican gherkins," and they can be added to a stir-fry, used in salads or pickled. Grow them just as you would cucumbers, providing a trellis for the vines; they'll continue to produce straight through to frost.
FIDDLEHEADS: Not a plant usually grown specifically for food, these are the first curly stems of ordinary ferns that emerge in April and May. All ferns have fiddleheads, but the ones on Ostrich ferns are the most impressive. Simply clip them off before they unfurl. They must be soaked briefly and rinsed several times before cooking, and absolutely must be cooked before consuming (eating raw fiddleheads could lead to food poisoning). They are an acquired taste, which I've not yet acquired.
ROMANESCO: A veritable, edible work of art, the light-green, mild-flavored, spiraled head of this broccoli can grow as large as 3 feet by 2 feet and weigh up to 4 pounds. Sow indoors and grow outdoors as you would ordinary broccoli.
CUCUZZA LONGA (Cucurbita moschata 'Tromboncino d'Albenga'): I grew up posing for photographs with these taller-than-me (at the time) squashes in my backyard. Shaped like baseball bats, only longer, these cucurbit need a trellis to climb and plenty of sunlight. Peel and dice, then saute the mild-flavored fruits with oil, garlic and basil, or cook into soups and stews. (Pictured, Ryan Meskill, 8, and brother Justin Meskill, 6, of Mineola, pose with their home-grown cucuzza longa).
OCA (Oxalis tuberosa): A tuber native to South America, oca is grown just like potatoes and is harvested in autumn. Tubers can be sun-dried to enhance sweetness and eaten raw and salted, or prepared as you would potatoes. Leave some tubers in the ground, where they should survive winter and put forth new plants the following spring.