News From the Farm | July 31, 2017

At this time of year fruit, flowers and vegetables are brought in from our fields in wave upon wave, 6 days of the week, all day long. Bin trailers unload melons and sunflowers, four bins at a time. Harvest tractors, stacked high with boxes of eggplant are unloaded onto pallets destined for the ice water in the packing shed where they will be sorted, culled, boxed and stored in the cooler. Pick-up trucks pull in to unload cherry tomatoes stack by stack.  The crews come in from picking, their clothes soaked through with sweat. At the end of the day, weary and ready to put their feet up, the crew leaders write down a long list of numbers so that we know how much they will pick and we should try to sell for the next day.  

This week, it’s the melons that are peaking: Hercules, Galia, Goddess, Charantais, Piel de Sapo, Sharlynn, Canary, Honeydew, Honeyloup, Snow Leopard, Haogan, San Juan… That last one, the San Juan, is a large melon with a luscious smooth texture and orange flesh.  The other day, when I went to pick out my morning melon, Rye handed me a heirloom variety of Crenshaw, another large melon with orange flesh.  I generally make my morning melons into smoothies, but this one had such a wonderful texture and delicious flavor that I just had to eat it straight. I wondered to myself how many other people in the whole wide world had experienced the pleasure of such a fabulous melon as that one.  The ancient varieties of melon were large compared to the ones that we sell today.  But now, people don’t want to buy really large melons, even though their flavors are sublime.  Last year we did some trials of melons from Afghanistan (home to the wild ancestors of todays melons) and all of them were large.  Those in the know will tell you that the finest melons of all in modern times still come from Afghanistan and Iran.

Thinking that our CSA members have had a lot of melons in their boxes lately, I consulted the 2002 Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, to see how she liked to eat her melons. I picked up this book years ago when my husband and I spent a few days around the New Year as tourists in San Francisco going by design, only to restaurants that purchase from Full Belly.  Years later, when I went to a Celebration of Life for Judy, I carried the book with me, as it represented to me a way that I remember her. I still have, folded up inside the book, a dedication card from the Celebration that says, “Always Cook with Heart,… Judy Rodgers.”  My favorite melon recipe in Judy’s book is “Prosciutto and Melon in Sambuca”.

In 2004, Ruth Reichl released her cookbook, Gourmet. The book has several melon recipes, including “Melon, Arugula, and Serrano Ham with Smoked Paprika Dressing”. The recipe is described as “A full meal for when it is too hot to eat anything heavy.”  Salt from the ham, pepper from the arugula, sugar from the melon and smoke from the paprika.  There’s also some lime in the dressing, so a bit of acid as well.  That sounds pretty good and I think it might give some ideas to us all for how to use the abundance of CSA melons.

Finally, I consulted the 1964 Joy of Cooking, a gift from my husband’s grandmother.  I’ve always enjoyed looking through this cookbook, in part because it shows how much our tastes have (and haven’t) changed.  The melon recipes did not disappoint.  How about the following?

Frosted Melon Salad

Pare 1 large melon, leaving it whole.  Cut off enough from one end so you can scrape out the seeds…  Stand the melon upside down to drain.  Then fill, depending on the color of the flesh, with Fruit-Flavored gelatin. Try a combination of Orange-Flavored gelatin, canned crushed pineapple, canned mandarin oranges or sliced bananas.  After the center is set, coat the melon with 8-oz of cream cheese softened with a little milk and whipped until fluffy.  Chill until ready to serve.  Cut crosswise in 1-inch slices and serve on lettuce with French Dressing.

Back to the packing shed and all the melons that are coming in from the fields for us to deal with. After  the 10- and 11-hour summer days are done and most of the crew has left, Full Belly interns and owners end their work day in the packing shed loading trucks for the next day’s deliveries.  Truck load in July can last for several hours as dozens of pallets product are pulled back out of the coolers, tied up for stability and then loaded onto assorted trucks — 4 or sometimes 5 — that will leave for market early the next morning. Truck load, just like a lot of what goes on at the farm in July, involves a lot of people working together.  In one corner a little group is finishing up the sunflower bunching.  Stacks of produce are strategically placed on pallets, combining the right stores for the right trucks, in the right order for the route.  The pallets are tied up with cardboard corners and sometimes wrapped in a bit of plastic for extra stability.  José walks from pallet to pallet answering questions and checking to make sure that each store is going to get exactly what they ordered and no box has been forgotten in a corner of one of the coolers. Soon the forklifts and pallet jacks are heard and the crowded floor of the packing shed starts to open up as pallets disappear onto the trucks. Babies Waylon and Hazel are seen, sitting in a box, waiting for their parents to hurry up and take them home for that long overdue dinner.

At this point in the truck-load someone always cuts open a melon or a watermelon, and we all crowd around, having forgotten where our water bottles ended up, suddenly realizing that our mouths are parched and we are all about to drop from thirst.  This, for me, is somehow the soul and spirit of summer — that amazing taste of a cool melon or watermelon at the end of a hot, thirsty, exhausting day. 

—Judith Redmond