Kamokamo or kumi kumi (Cucurbita pepo) is a crop made for sharing. Its highly productive, vigorous vines can stretch up to 3m or more from the centre of the plant, so it needs plenty of space, too.
For those who haven’t tried kamokamo its flesh is a cross between a pumpkin and a courgette in taste and texture. The young fruits are similar to courgettes with soft, green, speckled skins, but have a more robust, slightly meaty flavour. They can be cooked in all the same ways as courgettes. Harvest them often to keep the young fruit coming. The tendrils and flowers are also edible.
If left on the vine the fruits c ontinue to grow to a length of around 30cm and a weight of 1.5kg or more. The ridged, green skin darkens as the fruit matures and the flesh becomes tougher and loses some of its flavour, but these large fruits are ideal for hangis and the traditional Kiwi boil up to feed the multitudes, as well as any other ways you would normally use pumpkin or marrow.
Fruit that remains unharvested after this stage gradually turns orange and the skin becomes thick and hard making it useful for winter storage. The flesh inside is tough and stringy, but can still be used for winter soups. When cutting kamokamo from the vine for storage leave a portion of the stalk attached to the fruit to prevent crown rot.
The growing requirements for kamokamo are the same as for pumpkins. The plants can be started indoors to get a jump on the season or sown direct once the weather has warmed up in mid-to-late spring after all danger of frost has passed. Choose a sheltered site that receives all-day sun and ensure the well-draining soil has been enriched with plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted compost or well-aged animal manure. Kakakamo are suitable options for growing along fences or down banks.
Keep the plants watered and weeded while they are establishing. After that they require little attention as they are reasonably drought tolerant, their large leaves shade out weeds and the only pest or disease of note is the powdery mildew that all of the cucurbits (pumpkin, cucumber, courgette) suffer from.
Immature fruit will be ready for harvest in around two months and the main crop around four months after planting.
Kamokamo was brought to New Zealand by early European settlers, but quickly became more popular with Maori. Today it is still grown in many Maori communities using traditional practices such as planting in mounds, applying only organic fertilisers and sprays, planting in kōanga (spring) at the new and full moon in accordance with the maramataka (moon calendar), the recitation of karakia (prayers) and storing the fruit along with whekī fern fronds.
The two main types of kamokamo fruit are round and heavily ribbed or oval with less distinct ribs, however, because individual communities grew their crops from saved seed, which they often jealously guarded from other growers, there are many variations, and the New Zealand varieties are quite distinct from those grown overseas.
The Great kiwi Boil up
There are many different versions of the great Kiwi boil up. Common to all of them is the need for a large pot – and kamokamo is often one of the main ingredients.
Once you’ve got your pot, put in the amount of meat bones it will accommodate (allowing for the addition of vegetables). Suitable bones are pork bones, bacon hocks, lamb bones, neck chops, brisket or a mixture. Cover the bones with water (or chicken stock for a richer flavour) and simmer for 1½ hours. You may have to replenish the water and skim the fat off the top from time to time. Peel and chop root vegetables such as kumara, potato, carrot and your kamokamo into large, thick chunks. Add them along with a big bunch of watercress and simmer for a further 20 minutes or until everything is tender.
Doughboys can be added to the pot at the same time as the vegetables. These are made by combining 1 cup of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt, then slowly mixing in ¼ cup of water to make a dough, which is rolled into small balls.
What you need to know
When to sow/plant
Sow direct once the weather has warmed up in mid-to-late spring when all danger of frost has passed or start your seeds indoors around a month before.
Where to plant
Ideally a sheltered site in full sun with rich well-drained soil.
2-3m apart. Kamokamo can be grown along walls or down banks to save space.
Time to maturity
Immature fruit will be ready for harvest in around two months and the main crop at around four months.
Where to buy
Specialist seed suppliers such as Kings Seeds or Koanga seeds, or farmers’ markets. Grow some of the first fruit to appear on your vine until the end of the season and use the seed for next year’s crop.