Volume VII, No. 3, Spring 1980
AN AROMATIC PLANT
by Patsy Watts
Plumgranny. This is the common name for a plant that many old-timers in the Ozarks are familiar with. But to those of us who have never seen nor heard of the plant, the name presents a mystery, offering no clue to what it could refer. Who would guess that something sounding like a forerunner of a plum is actually not that at all, but a small, yellowish, gourd like melon? When Mary Scott Hair first suggested a story on plumgrannies, I had no idea what to expect. However, I soon found several Ozarkians that had grown or knew about the melon and were willing to share their knowledge.
None of the people I talked with seemed to know exactly how the name of plumgranny came about. There are a few other common names, such as pomegranate melon (which has no connection with the pomegranate of the Bible), and ornamental pomegranate, so called because often, in' stead of eating them, folks used plumgrannies as ornamentation. Vance Randolph also wrote in Down in the Holler that the plumgranny was sometimes called a vegetable peach.
One major factor influencing the popularity of the plumgranny throughout its history has been its odor. The sticky, sweet fragrance caused the melon to be highly esteemed by Moslems, as well as by people in Peru, Spain and Egypt. A legend claims that Queen Anne of England carried a plumgranny tucked in her pocket as a perfumed sachet, thus creating still another common name--Queen Anne's Pocket Melon. Mrs. Hair commented, "To put a ripe one in a dish in the house is like having good scents from Arabia perfume the whole indoors."
Plumgranny seeds, saved from generation to generation, were carried to the Ozarks by settlers from the eastern part of the United States. The settlers planted the seeds in the spring after the last frost. "Good rich soil, fertilized with barnyard manure, nourished the plant, and when it matured, it was a vine," said Ella Dunn. "Some people used trellises or stakes for the vine to climb, but others just let it crawl across the ground like a cucumber vine."
Tiny yellow flowers bloomed, making an attractive contrast against the broad, veiny leaves and coarse, hairy stems. This blooming season lasted close to four weeks. The flowers produced tiny green and white striped melons that continued to grow to almost the size of a small orange, until the first frost of the season killed the vine. The color of the melons changed to a bright yellow when they were fully ripe.
Mrs. Hair sent us seeds from one melon early in the growing season, but none of these came up. She thought perhaps these first ones came from a bad strain. The second seeds she sent were from a melon her neighbor, Mrs. Winnie Inmon, grew. These seeds came up and produced many plants, but, because of the lateness of the growing season, the melons did not mature as fully as they should have. When the egg-sized plumgrannies turned yellow, we cut them open. The seeds inside were arranged like those inside a cantalope, except, whereas a cantalope is mostly pulp with seeds only at the very center, the plumgranny was mostly seeds with only a very thin pulp for fruit.
Sometimes women made preserves by peeling off the skin, scraping out the seeds and slicing this fruit into syrup or molasses. Other times people just ate the plumgrannies raw. Ella Dunn said, "A lot of people just peeled them and ate them with salt." Another person remembered the time when children took them to school to eat at lunch or recess. However, Lottie Broyles said, "They were not eaten at all by anyone I knew. They were just used for ornamentation, like gourds."
In spite of its many uses, the plumgranny is no longer commonly grown. As a result, those acquainted with the plant are becoming fewer, and the plumgranny has come as close as a plant can come to being folklore. Vance Randolph said, "Botanists in Missouri and Arkansas are unfamiliar with the vernacular name and are unable to identify the plant from my description. But any of my old neighbors on Bear Creek in Taney County, Missouri, can tell 'em all about plumgrannies." He went on to say that Lola Bryars Johnson thought the scientific name must be Cucumis anguira. However, Mrs. Hair believes it to be Cucumis melo, variety dudain.
This difference in scientific names doesn't necessarily mean one of the women is wrong, for often the same common name is given to more than one plant. We found this to be the case when we talked with Goldie Campbell, who gave a somewhat different report of the melon. The plumgranny Mrs. Campbell was familiar with grew to almost the size of grapefruit, with the inside resembling that of a muskmelon. This fruit was used to make preserves or was eaten raw. The seeds had to be saved each year and replanted the following spring.
The name plumgranny, intriguing as it sounds, may mean different things to people in different areas of the Ozarks. How about you? Are you familiar with a plumgranny different from the ones described here?
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