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.

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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.