Luscious scents of the summer

Fresh melons are redolent of season's lushness

In The Garden

July 07, 2002|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,Special to the Sun

The taste and smell of fresh melons mean summer itself for many Marylanders, and a good melon, like fine perfume, is a provoker of memories.

Cut one open and the past comes pouring out. There are the Eastern Shore melons you had as a child; watermelons piled up or cracked open for a family feast; or fragrant muskmelons bought, still field-warm, at a farmer's stand.

Most of the melons in the supermarket are not an adequate representation of the fruit. By breeding for shipping, handling and disease resistance, many hybridizers have produced a handful of melon varieties for big producers, while abandoning the heirlooms and local varieties.

Therefore, it may come as a pleasant surprise that the melons we see in the supermarket, those green or netted bowling balls, are just the tip of the iceberg. For there are melons not only netted and striped but also warty and freckled, melons lush with promise, banana-shaped, pineapple- or mango-scented.

However, to acquire these more exotic beauties, you need to grow your own, or find someone who does. (It is not yet too late to plop some seeds in the garden.)

A wonderful introduction to these gems can be found in a lavishly illustrated new book, Melons for the Passionate Grower (Artisan, 2002), by Amy Goldman, a devoted grower and preserver of heirloom melons.

In it, Goldman has included not only pictures luscious enough to eat, but also information and fascinating tidbits of information about melons that will appeal to growers and food historians alike.

For example, as Goldman reveals in her book, Reticulatus, which we Americans tend to miss-call a cantaloupe, is "a breed separate and apart." It is actually a musk- or Persian melon, she says; the Latin name refers to the distinctive "net-like tissue which covers the rind." It is by far the most popular melon among consumers in Maryland, according to Jon Traunfeld of the Maryland Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service (although, he notes, watermelon beats it in sheer tonnage).

Muskmelons usually have sweet orange flesh under their ribbed and sutured rind, and when ripe will easily slip or fall from the vine, leaving a clean scar.

However, thanks to efforts of seed savers and persistent small growers, there are many heirloom varieties still available to the gardener.

The classic 'Persian,' 'Ambrosia,' 'Fordhook Gem,' 'Jenny Lind' (a green-fleshed variety), 'Minnesota Midget' and 'Schoon's' are some of the best-known.

We also have many regional muskmelons, which adventurous gardeners can seek out on their own from farmers' markets: 'Titus' from the Lancaster / York area, large and wonderfully sweet and fragrant with orange flesh, and 'Boonsboro,' a smaller, dense, early variety developed in Western Maryland, are just two examples.

Then there is the winter melon Inodorus, which matures late and often keeps well into the winter under proper storage conditions. This includes green-fleshed honeydew, bright- yellow 'Canary,' rough-skinned 'Casaba' and 'Crenshaw.'

'White Antibes Winter,' originally grown in Algeria and the south of France, is reputed to be the finest honeydew, but even it must be left on the vine to de-velop its last surge of sugar.

The real Cantalupensis, or cantaloupe, translates as "sing-ing wolf" and is so good it truly may have made a wolf sing, as anyone who has ever grown or tasted a ripe 'Charentais' or 'Petit Gris de Rennes' will testify.

These melons are ribbed, but generally smooth-skinned. They do not slip from the vine when ripe, and are therefore a great melon to grow espaliered on a trellis where space is limited. Since they do not travel well and require some pampering, they are almost never seen in a market but must be grown by the home gardener.

Sources

Bountiful Gardens

18001 Schaefer Ranch Road

Willits, CA 95490

707-459-6410

The Cook's Garden

P.O. Box 535

Londonderry, VT 05148

800-457-9703

www.cooksgarden.com

Johnny's Selected Seeds

2580 Foss Hill Road

Albion, ME 04910

207-437-4301

www.johnnysseeds.com

Nichols Garden Nursery

1190 North Pacific Highway

Albany, OR 97321

800-422-3985

www. nicholsgardennursery.com

Seeds of Change

P.O. Box 15700

Santa Fe, NM 87506-5700

800-392-2587

www.seedsofchange.com

W. Atlee Burpee

300 Park Ave.

Warminster, PA 18974

800-888-1447

www.burpee.com

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