Her voice may be lost to history forever, but the sweet, soaring presence of Jenny Lind lives on in this gorgeous little melon.
Before the “Swedish Nightingale’s” American tour made her an international sensation in 1850, she electrified European audiences with her powerful soprano and command of vocal techniques.
Lind retired from the opera stage at age 29, but she continued to give concerts around Europe. In 1849, the legendary showman P.T. Barnum approached Lind to go on a two-year-long tour of North America. They parted ways halfway through, but Jenny Lind continued on her own, returning to Europe in 1852. A savvy business woman herself, Lind made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the venture. She donated most of it to free schools in Sweden.
Lind’s American singing tour generated a whirlwind of public interest that some people dubbed “Lind Mania.” Marketers were anxious to cash in on her popularity. Over time her name was affixed to everything from furniture to cave formations — and the sweet, turban-shaped melon, of course.
No recordings of Jenny Lind exist, but her music remained immensely popular. German opera singer Frieda Hempel recorded some of her songs, and she also gained fame with her recitals in which she impersonated Lind. “Jenny Lind’s Favorite Polka,” written by German composer Anton Wallerstein in the 1840s, remains a staple at dances and fiddling contests.
It remains unclear how the melon with the light green flesh came to bear Lind’s name. Plant historian William Woys Weaver writes that it began showing up in Philadelphia markets as the Jenny Lind melon in 1846.
Is it possible that Barnum struck a deal with a produce marketer to drum up excitement for Lind’s American singing debut? Perhaps. Barnum was a master promoter, but he didn’t reach out to her until 1849 — the year before she sailed to New York City for what would be the first of her 93 concerts with him.
Some 50 years after its introduction, the Jenny Lind melon was popular in markets of the Northeast, but had yet to gain a wider following. In 1898, the William Henry Maule seed catalog called it “astonishing that this … most delicious small melon, is so little known outside the State of New Jersey.”
Thankfully, today the Jenny Lind is a favorite among seed savers. The 1- to 2-pound melon with the button on its blossom end grows well in places where other muskmelons might struggle.
The late Merlyn Neidens, a seed saver and grower from southern Illinois, bred the “Golden Jenny,” a beautiful golden-meated version of the Jenny Lind.
We are grateful to seed savers and heirloom growers for bringing these Jenny Lind melons to new audiences!