The cultivation of melons has a long tradition in the Reggio area. In the reclaimed lands between Novellara, Guastalla and Santa Vittoria, it represented an secondary source of income for agricultural workers and peasants, who sold them at local markets.
The traditional melons in Reggio area were these four:
It belongs to the group of netted melon, has a small size, a very fragrant light green pulp and a strong and intense, almost peppery taste. It grows easily by climbing on nets and supports (hence the name which means climbing melon).
Several texts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century mention a green climbing melon and in the book by Carlo Casali of 1915 The names of plants in the Reggio dialect this melon show up. In the province of Rovigo, however, it was called peverin, due to its slightly peppery taste.
This melon was once spread over a fairly large area along the Po valley. It was cultivated until the early 1970s, when it could still be found at fruit shops. It was eventually abandoned because of two weak points: the poor resistance to the Fusarium mould and the fact that the taste is not very sweet.
It is probably the most ancient and owes its peculiarity to its appearance, which is similar to a pumpkin. Melons with this characteristic and with a rough and warty surface (hence the name “toad”) show up in several Italian paintings between the 16th and 17th centuries, and are mentioned by the agronomist Filippo Re, in a document which dates back to 1811.
They have a very peculiar taste: not very sweet, savoury and slightly peppery, a flavour very different from the modern melons. Toad melons are excellent baked in the oven like peaches, with chocolate and “amaretti”.
“Banana” is a rather common term to indicate a kind of melon with an elliptical shape, a thin skin and a whitish, sweet pulp, an aroma which vaguely recall the homonymous fruit.
The one of the Presidia, is a local ecotype, with an appearance similar to the late (or winter) melon from South of Italy, which have a better shelf life, but are scarcely scented and with an harder flesh.
It is for sure the most mysterious among the ancient Reggio melons: its origin is totally unknown, it does not resemble any other Italian melon (it has nothing to do with the other varieties called “bananas”) and it was known only in a very restricted area between Brescello (RE) and Sorbolo (PR).
It is a round and smooth melon, with no ribbing and has a yellow-orange skin, spotted with dark green. The pulp is whitish in color, tender and sweet, if harvested when the melon is correctly ripe.
It has an intense and very pleasant aroma, recalling tropical fruits. Due to its flavor it is more suitable to be consumed as a fruit instead of being combined with savory dishes and cured meats. It is also excellent for preparing artisanal sorbets.
Widespread until the second half of the last century, today the cultivation of traditional melons is limited to small areas for family use or for the local market.
A more specialized production has developed since the 1970s, when American hybrid varieties such as Harper, Supermarket, Burpee and Sweet rock appeared. These varieties have a more uniform ripening, guarantee high productivity, a very constant quality, a high sugar content and above all a long shelf life. All the characteristics appreciated in a market system dominated by the rules of large organised distribution chains.
The ancient Reggian Ancient melons varieties, on the other hand, have characteristics that do not match well with transport and spending a long time on supermarket shelves. They have a short maturation interval, and generally a poor shelf life, they will only last for a few days if refrigerated.
Thanks to the recovery and selection of seeds carried out by the A. Zanelli Institute of Higher Education in Reggio Emilia, today the production of the ancient melons has been taken up once again by some farmers in the Reggio area (and also north of the Po).
The Presidium was created to support them, to promote these melons in the local area and to encourage local consumption of these ancient varieties. The Zanelli Institute deals with the conservation of seeds, both in situ (with periodic reproduction of seeds in the field) and ex situ (in the germplasm bank).
Plains and foothill areas in the province of Reggio Emilia, and neighbouring plains and foothills in the provinces of Parma, Cremona and Mantua.
The melons can begin to be harvested at the end of June, through to July and with the majority becoming ripe in the first half of August. Excluding the Santa Vittoria banana melon, which has a shelf life of a few months, the other varieties must be consumed within a few days of harvesting.
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