I remember long time ago when we used to grow winter melon in the family property in Central Java. The trailing plants crept as far as they could reach and the rounded fruits, which looked like as they were excessively covered by talcum powder, were sitting there on the ground ready to pick.
Winter melon flesh is white and it is not sweet. They are used for cooking rather than eating fruit. Asian people cook winter melons to make soup, curry, stir-fry and some preserved them with sugar to make candied winter melon. But my favourite is winter melon stew! It is so refreshing and cooling in a very hot day. We boil chunks of peeled melon flesh together with palm sugar and few fragrant pandan leaves. We let it cool and we serve it with ice cubes as at that time we didn’t have a refrigerator.
Winter melon (Benincasa hispida) is also known as white gourd, ash gourd, wax gourd or fussy melon in English. In Indonesia people call it beligo. It is a vein that has strong tendrils and when the fruits are young they are furry. But as soon as they have started to mature, the smooth green skin is covered by white powder-like substance. In colder climate countries like China, they use these long lasting mature fruits for cooking during the winter. This is why they name this versatile fruit “donggua” or “tong qua” which means winter melon.
Winter melons are grown from seeds. This plant needs full sun position, warm weather, rich soil and good watering. The pollination is depended on insects. Many people prefer to let the vine grow on the ground but the others built trellises for the plants to climb on. In this case the trellis has to be strong as the fruits can grow quite large.
When I was small girl, one of my aunties used to make candied winter melon. In Indonesia we call it Tang Kue. After cutting the melon flesh into identical strips, she would soak these white bland tasted melon peices in ash (or lime) solution to harden them. Then they had to be blanched in boiling water to get rid of the traces of ash/lime. After all these were done, they were boiled in ‘sugar and water mix’ until the sugar crystalized and the melon pieces were well coated. The result was this snow white (crystal-like) candied winter melon that was very sweet and a little chrunchy in texture. The Chinese will serve this candied melon during the Lunar new year celebration or use it as gifts for family and friends together with the other celebration sweets.
………….”A sweetheart cake or wife cake is a traditional Chinese pastry made with winter melon and almond paste.
There are many classes held in Hong Kong for making sweetheart cakes. The sweetheart cake, though it has such a long history, is still popular among many in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Many people in Hong Kong, as well as professional chefs, are reportedly modifying this pastry to make it more “modern” and better-tasting
There are two legends that attempt to explain the origins of the Sweetheart cake. One tells the tale of a couple that lived a very poor life in imperial China. They loved each other and lived in a small village.
Suddenly, a mysterious disease spread. The husband’s father became very sick. The couple spent all of their money in order to treat the man’s father, but he was still sick. The wife sold herself as a slave in exchange for money to buy medicine for her father-in-law.
and with a crispy crust. His cake became so popular that he was able to earn enough money to buy his wife back.
There is another version where the man was eating at someone’s house and recognized his wife’s pastry and was reunited……….” (Quoted from Wikipedia)