Mad for Melon

If you notice a white-haired woman sniffing all the produce at the farmers’ market on Saturday, it’s probably me. I simply can’t help myself. Tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, bell peppers, peaches, nectarines, berries, and melons—each with its own distinctive fragrance when picked at the peak of perfection—rival any perfume you’ll find at the mall. You’ll rarely encounter any of these aromas under the fluorescent lights of a supermarket, either.

Along with truckloads of perfectly ripe berries and stone-fruits at the farmers’ market, this month we are further indulged with an abundance of just-picked corn and melons. I’m usually content to prepare these two things as simply as possible, so their true flavors shine through. Grill me an ear of corn or give me an ice-cold wedge of watermelon, and I’m one happy gal.mellon

But just the other day I was transfixed by a photo on Pinterest. A close-up shot of glistening pale green honeydew melon chunks paired with fat little blackberries made for some first-class food porn. The addition of tiny arugula leaves and a few scattered bits of soft white cheese added a savory note. I was besotted.

I immediately clicked on the recipe link, only to find it was written in a foreign language that neither my computer nor I could decipher. But that gorgeous photo remained an inspiration, so I set off to the kitchen to create my own version.

Let’s just say I personally ate the whole thing within an eight-hour period. And I plan to make it again real soon, while locally-grown honeydew melon and blackberries are still sweet and juicy.

Here is my recipe. In English.

Farm-Fresh Honeydew-Blackberry Salad

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon California olive oil
1 small (2 1/2 to 3 pounds) green honeydew melon, peeled, seeded, and cut into
1-inch chunks (about 4 cups total)
1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) fresh blackberries
4 cups (loosely packed) baby arugula leaves
1/3 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

1. To make the salad dressing: In a large bowl, stir together the lime juice, honey, ginger, and salt. Mix in the olive oil.

2. Add the melon and blackberries. Toss gently to coat.

3. Spread an even layer of arugula in a large shallow bowl or platter. Pour the fruit mixture over the top, and sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4 to 6.

Cook’s Tip: For variation, omit the arugula and add 2 tablespoons of thinly sliced fresh mint leaves to the salad. Or spice things up with a finely chopped jalapeño chile pepper. When you cook with the best seasonal ingredients, it’s all good.

_____________________________________________________________

Melon Primer

–To meet consumer demands, melons like cantaloupe and honeydew are sold in supermarkets throughout the year. Buying one often seems like a good idea—until you cut into it. Let’s just say these tasteless orbs are best left to the hemisphere in which they originated.

–Melons ripen only on the vine. Once picked, they will never get any riper or sweeter. In fact, their last few days on the vine are critical, as that is when most of the sugars develop, they become aromatic, and the blossom-end begins to soften.

–Melons destined for a grocery store are generally picked before fully ripe, so they will be firm enough to withstand shipping. They may soften during their journey, but they will never become fully ripe.

–Most supermarkets sell only the usual assortment of common melons. If you want to try something different, like the outrageously delish Sharlyn, you usually have to go to a roadside stand or the farmers’ market.

–Here are a few tips for choosing a ripe melon:
For so-called “netted” melons, like cantaloupe (that have skin with a net-like pattern), the background beneath the netting should be tan or gold, with no sign of green. They are fragrant; and the blossom end should give slightly to gentle pressure.

For smooth-skinned melons, like honeydew, look for a cream-colored exterior, rather than green. The skin should be velvety-smooth; and it’s okay if it feels slightly sticky. They are fragrant; and the blossom end should give slightly to gentle pressure.

Watermelon is a little trickier. A ripe one has hard, dull (rather than shiny) skin, and often develops a creamy yellow spot on the underside, where it rested on the ground. I’m always amused by people in the supermarket feverishly thumping and tapping melons to determine their ripeness. It’s so much easier at the farmers’ market, where you can just ask the grower directly.

–Whole melons can be kept for up to 1 week at room temperature, or 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Once the melon is cut, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

–Melons should be thoroughly rinsed with cold water before slicing.

–Melons are easily cut with a serrated bread knife, using a sawing motion. Both netted and smooth-skinned melons should be cut in half through the “equator”; then scoop out the seeds and strings with a spoon.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

If you’d like to expand your entertaining repertoire—and have a lot of fun in the process—check out Peggy Fallon’s upcoming class at Draeger’s Cooking School at Blackhawk on Thursday, August 7, at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to www.draegerscookingschool.com, or call 1-800-642-9463 ext. 261.

 

 

Tomato Hornworms & Soil for Roses

Q. Where do tomato worms come from? I check my plants daily but so far I haven’t seen any.

A. The Tomato Hornworm is the larvae stage of the Hawk, Moth. It’s also known as the Sphinx or Hummingbird Moth. It over-winters in the soil as dark-brown pupae that emerge as an adult moth in the late spring. The female moth lays smooth, single, green egg(s) on the underside of the tomato leaf and her life span is about a week. Tomato Hornworms are voracious eaters, munching entire leaves, small stems, and even parts of immature fruits. They do get quite large and the horn-like structure on their posterior is where the name ‘Hornworm’ originates. After three to four weeks of feeding, they will drop to the ground and enter the soil where they change into a two-inch long pupa. Depending on the weather, there may be from one to four generations per year. While they’re most commonly associated with tomatoes, hornworms are also common pests of eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. Most likely, you’ll notice the damage before you notice the hornworms, because their color helps them blend in so well with the plant foliage. You can also look for their black droppings on the foliage and around the base of the plant. Since you haven’t seen any as yet, suggests that they may not be a problem this year. The Hornworm season runs through September and checking the plants weekly is sufficient

Q. I have several roses that are not looking their best. I was told that I could revive them by putting new topsoil down. I’d like add new soil but, do I have to remove the old soil completely first?

A. I wouldn’t recommend significantly raising the soil level to revive them as roses are very resilient plants. Instead, they should bounce back with the addition of nutrients and water. It would be okay to cover up some exposed roots but you don’t want to bury the bud union. The bud union is the location where a desired variety is budded on to a rootstock. This is a large knot near the soil line. Modern garden roses such as Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, and Floribundas are not growing on their own roots; hence, its important not to raise the soil level significantly. The additional soil should be cultivated around the plants. The soil microbes will then break down the organic matter and supply additional nutrients to the plant(s). Also, don’t be concerned with the surface roots, as you’ll find plenty. Roses are heavy feeders along with needing lots of moisture. Dr. Earth Rose Food is suggested as it contains the basic nutrients plus additional microbes. Monthly applications are recommended and always water your plants the day before or at least four hour before feeding and immediately afterwards. Roses are watered at least three times a week during the summer and more often when the temperatures are over ninety degrees. You should see a marked difference in your roses within six weeks.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is www.dirtgardener.com and you can send questions by email at dirtgarden@aol.com or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523 and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Buzz.Bertolero