Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Melon

Every season there is at least one fruit and one vegetable that pop up and grab my attention. And for the whole season, while they are around, they are crisper, juicier, fresher, riper, smoother, softer - and most of all more flavorful - than ever before.

I'm not sure what makes it happen. Sometimes I think it's just something I never really noticed or bothered with before, but mostly I think maybe it's that all of the optimum growing conditions converge for that one season, and they just taste more like themselves because of it.

And I also suppose some part of it is because I am buying more of my produce at the green market, and therefore what I'm buying is more in season. But even within seasonality, it just seems like every year there's that one thing whose taste transcends the sum of its parts.

It should surprise no one who has been reading my blog lately that my vegetable this season is the beet. I have already written about it a couple of times, and there are more recipes I am ready to share with you, along with a little tutorial on how to cook and peel them. They are firm, deeply richly red, and as sweet as sugar. The orange and golden ones are delicious too, but what I can't seem to get enough of is the red.

The fruit I can't get enough of this summer is melons. When I first moved here, I was completely and totally underwhelmed by the local cantaloupe. They were hard and, even when sweet, had the kind of crunch that I associate with unripe fruit. There are only a few things that I consider to truly be better in Texas, and cantaloupe is one of them. There's a little city on the northeast side of Texas, not far from Roswell, New Mexico, called Pecos, and apparently the soil and climate conditions create the perfect environment for the most lusciously sweet cantaloupe in the world. I didn't really know this at the time, I only knew to look for the Pecos label. If I bought a cantaloupe with the Pecos label on it I knew I could trust that it would be soft, sweet, creamy, and delicious. Every time.

Hard for any poor soil-deprived local melon to compete. Until this summer. It started with the honeydew melon I bought to wrap in prosciutto for my picnic with Bob on my birthday. It was so soft and sweet that I had to try another one. Which was just as soft and sweet.

I thought maybe if the honeydew was so good, maybe the cantaloupe would be, too. So the next time I was at Treasure Island I checked them out. I picked up each one and smelled the stem end. Nothing. I don't know how true it is, but it always works for me with any produce. It's a trick I learned from watching the Two Fat Ladies on FoodTV. On the subject of tomatoes, Clarissa Dickson Wright said something along the lines of: "If it doesn't smell like a tomato, it won't taste like a tomato." Ever since, I have been sniffing and smelling my way through the produce stalls at the green market, and I have to say that so far my nose hasn't let me down.

And while the cantaloupe has not been smelling so sweet, I decided to check out the other melons that are always on the other side of the counter. You know the ones I mean - the melons that are oddly shaped, a little puckered, or a brighter shade of orange. I always noticed them, but I never really considered them. I don't know what made me decide to check them out. Maybe it's because they looked firm and fresh, and I was heady from the unexpected flavor of the honeydew. I picked one of the orange-skinned melons, put it to my nose, and inhaled a sweet melon scent. I put it in my basket and brought it home.Imagine my surprise on cutting it open and discovering that it was green. Even more, it was soft, sweet, moist and fruity. There was a hint of cantaloupe in the flavor, and maybe a hint of honeydew, but it was an altogether new flavor.

And now I can't get enough of them. I can't wait to see what new kinds are out there. And if you want some sweet succulent refreshment this summer, I recommend you try out some of the different varieties too.

I have no recipes to share - when they're this good they don't need anything more than to be cut up and eaten.

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