Summary of my research on the provenance of the Jenny Lind melon, named after the 19th century Swedish singer and soprano, Jenny Lind.
On Twitter at the end of April, @foolforfood_de drew my attention to the interesting fact that there is a Jenny Lind melon variety: the turban-shaped, coarse-set Cucumis melo 'Jenny Lind'.
Jenny Lind is one of my passionate characters here on the blog and I decided to track down the place and time of the naming. Is this a European naming that was exported to the US, or did they give the melon its name in the United States?
When might this have happened?
How close can I get to a result with my research methods?
In which archives did I find what I was looking for?
What results have I arrived at?
An additional result, as unexpected as it was very nice for me, is that I found interesting, partly illustrated historical seed and plant catalogues in the French State Archives as well as in the archives of the Library of Congress. These may be interesting to read or look at for lovers of old varieties or just because. Links in the sources below.
Botanical immortalisation of people
With a little distance to @foolforfood_de's tweet at the end of April, naming plants after celebrities is still nothing special today. Roses in particular are popular, and this is probably due in part to the fact that roses in particular are still bred a lot, and roses are literally a prominent plant in the ornamental garden. There is the rose Barbra Streisand, Brigitte Bardot, Van Gogh, Rosamunde Pilcher, Gary Grant etc. At any rate, in the great age of new plant discoveries, from the 16th to the end of the 19th century, it was common practice to honour well-known personalities or glorious botanical professional colleagues by naming a plant. This was the case, for example, with the tulip magnolia, which is native to many gardens and which the Pauline monk Charles Plumier named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol. Today, an entire genus bears this name. Naming plants after celebrities is a way of immortalising the person in the name of the plant. In the case of Magnol, with many other plants this is only known to proven experts, with others, see the roses above, it is obvious.
Jenny Lind's celebrity and the excesses
Emil Berliner (in the USA he called himself Emile Berliner; was born on 20 May 1851 in Hanover. He died at the age of 78 on 3 August 1929 in Washington, D.C. Berliner is considered the inventor of the record and the gramophone. Between 1881 and 1883, Emil Berliner visited Hanover. There, together with his brother Joseph Berliner, he founded the first European company for the production of telephone parts, the J. Berliner Telephongesellschaft. In 1887, he applied for a patent for a disc-shaped sound carrier in which a groove was carved from the outside to the inside in a spiral shape and in side letters, thus preserving the vibrations of the recording diaphragm in analogue form. The patent also included a recording and playback device, the original gramophone. This was the invention of the gramophone record, as Berliner called the disc in his native language.
Quelle: Emil Berliner, Wikipedia
I didn't know there was a variety of melon named after the Swedish singer Jenny Lind until the end of April 2021. Jenny Lind has become something of a passion of mine, I discovered this interesting celebrity, this first real female world star of the 19th century while researching P.T. Barnum's Cabinet of Curiosities.
Jenny Lind was a soprano singer born in Sweden in1820 who became very famous with her voice in a very short time, even before Nellie Melba. It took barely twelve years for her to become so famous in Europe that numerous composers composed for her, authors wrote stories for her and to her, adoringly fell at her feet. Finally, at the invitation of the later circus king P.T. Barnum, she made an acclaimed two-year tour of the North American continent, earned a fortune and donated most of it to charity. She died on 2 November 1887 in the English spa town of Malvern in the county of Worchestershire in England.
The time of silence
One must never forget, when reflecting on Jenny Lind's fame in the 1840s in Europe, and a little later (from 1849 in the USA), that something very important did not exist at that time. There was no television, but there was no film either. It was not until 1893 that the inventor Thomas Alva Edison presented the kinetoscope developed by his chief engineer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson - a showcase in which one person at a time could watch short films.
But radio had not yet been invented either; it was not until 1877 that the same American inventor Thomas Alva Edison presented a purely mechanical recording device, the tin-foil phonograph. And it was not until 1887, the year of Jenny Lind's death, that Emil Berliner from Hanover invented the gramophone.
There were no sound recordings in the whole of Europe, in the whole of the world. So there were no recordings of Jenny Lind either, and that's the way it is to this day. And perhaps it is this circumstance that makes the singer seem so much greater, her voice so much more sonorous and beautiful.
People in the 19th century relied on the reports that the newspapers wrote. And news came from Sweden in the 1940s that a new star had been born in the opera heavens. In my opinion, this is the only way to understand the enthusiasm in Europe and the hysteria in the USA when Jenny Lind was announced for her famous singing tour in 1850. If you want to read more, click on the teaser.
What does this have to do with the naming of the melon?
I have researched that Jenny Lind was first mentioned in American newspapers around 1845. After that, the number of hits when searching for her name in the American Congressional Record keeps increasing. So it's possible that the melon got its name in the US, but if newspapers didn't mention her before '45, how could anyone name a melon after her? So is it perhaps just as likely that the seeds were exported from Europe?
Melons are berries
A short history of melons
Melons are the juicy fruits of cucurbits. The name comes from the Greek short form melo for m?lopép?n apple melon or ripe apple. A distinction is made between watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) and sugar melons (Cucumis melo), which are more closely related to cucumbers.
Melons originated in Africa and in the hot valleys of southwest Asia, mainly Iran and India. From there they reached Europe towards the end of the Roman Empire. Recent discoveries show that the melon may have come to Europe as early as the Bronze Age. As early as 1494, melons were grown in Haiti, which Columbus had brought with him. In the later USA, honeydew and casaba melons were cultivated from 16oo onwards. In Cavaillon, France, the melon first appears in writings of the town archives around 1495. Melons are subsequently found in many documents around Cavaillon, and at the end of the 19th century the melon of Cavaillon really took off.
Jenny Lind Melons
Cantaloupe-Melons and others
The Jenny Lind melon is a classic cantaloupe melon, also called sugar melon or cantaloupe. It has a characteristic wart-like structure on the outside. As a rule, the flesh is orange, which is also said to be the case with the Golden Jenny Melon variety. This has pronounced ribs, looking more like a pumpkin or turban, although it is more closely related to the cucumber.
Cucumis melo Jenny Lind, on the other hand, has a similar shape but green sweet flesh. According to a seed dealer, the fruits weigh about 800 grams, are netted. They need 75-85 days to ripen.
Known from 1840?
The history of the Jenny Lind melon in the USA
Both the packaging of Rareseeds and the video of Rareseeds (see footnotes below) mention the year 1840 as the date for the naming. Nicely, Rareseeds wrote me in response to my YouTube comment that in their opinion the Jenny Lind melon is based on an Armenian melon, perhaps a breeding from it. ("It's a bit of a mystery on the exact origins. But it's thought to have been derived from an Armenian melon.", Rareseeds).
According to my research in American newspaper archives, the now searchable archived local media in the USA did not know Jenny Lind at that time. In 1840, Jenny Lind was just 20 years old, still living in Stockholm, Sweden and singing at the opera there. Her fame had already spread somewhat, but it was not until 1841 that she travelled to Paris. The Rareseeds video attributes the discovery of the origin to William Woys Weaver, a Pennsylvania farmer and vegetable grower and seed collector. He now has the largest private seed collection in the US. He says the Jenny Lind melon first appeared at a Philadelphia market in 1846. According to him, it was developed from the Center melon, an American variety from before 1840.
How did the name come about?
I researched the American National Archives and the earliest mention of Jenny Lind in an article is in The New York Herald, 17 April 1845 (link). It is possibly in response to Jenny Lind's appearance in Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera A Field Camp in Silesia on 5 January 1845. At least according to my search, there is no mention of her before that in the searchable media at the National Archives.
News was transported by ship at that time. It was much later, in July 1866, that the cable ship SS Great Eastern laid the first permanent telegraph line across the Atlantic. It was on 28 July that the cable link between St Johns in Newfoundland and the Irish island of Valentia first went into service. So it took a relatively long time in the 1940s for news from the European continent to reach America.
By 1846, Jenny Lind had probably become much better known, at least she was in Europe. The remarkable Jenny Lind Mania only set in with her trip to the USA, but that was only in 1850.
Was she already so famous in the USA between 1840 and 1846 that a melon was named after her?
What else have I found?
In the American National Archives I found an issue of the periodical Garden and Forest from 1888, edited by the North American botanist Charles Sprague Sargent from 1841-1927 (link, p. 154). In Volume 3, the author Dr. Robert P. Harris for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society writes about the cantaloupe on page 153, "This Centre Melon was the progenitor of the Jenny Lind variety named about 1846, but where it came from no one now appears to know." (By this he means the Centre Melon, author's note) Later on he writes about hybrids of cucumbers and melons:
This concluded my search in American archives, as far as I know them. But what was the situation in France, the European homeland of the melon?
Search in France
Paris, Quai de la Mégisserie 4, 1883
On the history of Vilmorin's "flower nursery"
The beginnings of the Vilmorin family and company can be traced to Quai de la Mégisserie No. 4 in Paris, where in 1743 Claude Geoffroy, heiress to her mother Jeanne Diffetot, Pierre Geoffroy's widow, became the owner of a seed shop (Maîtresse grainière). In the 18th century, seed merchants were called grainier or grainiére and were united in a guild in Paris. Today there is still a Vilmorin shop in the same place where the shop was in 1743. The oldest known printed catalogue dates from 1766.
Source: Clemens Alexander Wimmer Zur Geschichte von Vilmorins „Blumengärtnerei“
After the above-mentioned reference in an American archive, I am a little unsure. The when seems to be proven, from what is written above. The source of the name, the place is unclear. Where the melon got its name, nobody knows.
However, I found what I was looking for in the French National Archives. In the book Les plantes potagéres, description et culture des principaux légumes des climat tempérés by the grain and seed merchants Vilmorin-Andrieux e Cie, Marchand Grainiers, I found this reference. It is from 1890, the oldest I could find on the Gallica archival platform:
Personally, I find it exciting. Especially at second glance (about 2 weeks after my first research). In 1883, a variety of melon was entered in a plant directory in Paris and two of the alternative names refer to states on the North American continent: Carolina and Louisiana.
As William Woys Weaver wrote above: He claims that the Jenny Lind melon first appeared in a market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvanis in 1846. That is 2000 km from Louisiana, but only about 500 km from North Carolina.
What do the traders write?
Plant rarities Manfred Hans writes on his page: "An ancient French honeydew melon and named after a Swedish opera singer."
On the other hand, Bio-Saatgut writes that the melon is an old original variety from before 1850 from Armenia.
Prairie Flora Greenhouse writes that this variety is also known as Shipper's Delight and Jersey Button melon.
I find that interesting.
Because for the Jersey Button Melon I then found, after searching again, a single further historical hit, in Burpee's seeds that grow for 1904 : Wholesale Prices for Market Gardeners, Florists, and Farmers, only who buy to sell again. This is a catalogue worth looking at, as it is also available for browsing on Archive.org.
At least there is a whole collection of melon seeds starting on page 68, and on page 72 and 73 there are 2 nice hits: the Early Jenny Lind and the Burpee's Jersey Button Melon, a variety with a higher yield, if I understand it correctly.
But it is also listed in German directories as early as 1863, namely in Ernst Benary's Verzeichnis für das Jahr 1863 der Gemüse-, Feld-, Gras-, Wald- und Blumensämereien.
Jenny Lind is listed there as a fruit vegetable, traditional variety and amateur variety.
Which is more likely?
The import of the variety into the USA or the import of the variety into Europe?
Around 1845/46 Jenny Lind was not yet as well known in the USA as she was a few years later after her visit in the years 1850 to 1852. How likely is a naming in the States under these circumstances, with a first media mention only in 1845. Did European immigrants perhaps bring melon farming to the southern United States? At least for the slave trade, a relationship to the history of the melon is implied, as melons also came to the US through the slave and human trades.
The University of Missouri writes that the melon has a long history: Cultivation is confirmed for Florida as early as 1576, and for Massachusetts in 1629. Even Thomas Jefferson is said to have grown melons on his estate in Monticello, Virginia (completed in 1809), and for Native Americans there is mention of melon cultivation for the Mississippi river valley as far away as Florida. So it is not so unlikely after all that a Jenny Lind fan in the USA gave the melon its name.
All signs point to it, and the sources I found seem to confirm it, the Jenny Lind melon got its name in the southern United States of America. It is probably based on the Center Melon, possibly of Armenian origin. The new variety came back to Europe, at least in a French and a German plant directory I found evidence for that.
Und wie schmeckt sie nun?
And how does it taste now?
To answer the first question: I don't know. I ordered the seeds 1 week and 2 days ago and they still haven't arrived. It's supposed to grow quickly and if it does, with the weather this year, I'll give it a try. I'll sow them and see if I can get them to ripen over the summer. The short ripening period would be good for the weather, as spring doesn't promise much this year.
Then I will take photos and report back here.
Thanks for reading and making it this far!
The Jenny Lind melon probably got its name in the south of the United States of America. It is probably based on the Center Melon, possibly of Armenian origin. The new variety made its way back to Europe relatively quickly; I have found evidence of this at least in a French and a German plant directory.