Thursday Aug 11 2011
Check out melons at the Farmers’ Market
By: Billie Jean Salle Special to The News Messenger
Know and Go: What: Downtown Farmers’ Market When: 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 25 Where: F Street between 5th and 6th Streets and Beermann Plaza Farmers’ market column Check out melons at the Farmers’ Market By Billie Jean Salle Special to The News Messenger Another beautiful day. I'm loving the cooler than normal weather, although it means hard times ahead for us farmers. It is August, the peak of tomato season; and we are still searching our tomato plants for the hit of color suggesting summer’s bounty is finally here. The plants are laden with pounds of huge green tomatoes but few are really ripening normally. It seems the first tempting tomatoes are a bit disappointing; the texture is somewhat mushy. And how about the lack of the flavorful heirloom tomatoes? By now, the market tables should be a beautiful kaleidoscope of multi colors and sizes of all kinds of tomatoes. Don't get me wrong; the markets have tomatoes, especially the super sweet cherry tomatoes but the gigantic heirlooms are taking much longer this year to ripen. You wouldn't think this would be a serious problem, but at the other end of the harvesting season, the farmers will have harvested significantly less pounds due to the shorten season. That equates to less income for all the farmers’ efforts. By now, most of us farmers know we are in trouble and to expect harder times this winter. So what do we do? We plant larger winter gardens to help bridge that money gap. Usually, the winter gardens are not a reliable source of income due to Mother Nature’s surprises such as freezes and excessive rainfall or even snow! But our passion for farming and because we have already invested so much sweat equity into our land makes us continue to try, as we hope this year will be the "good" year. Farmers are a crazy breed. We are either unrealistically optimistic or terrible gamblers! At least we will always have food on our tables. The fruit is an entirely different story. The cooler weather suggests to the fruit that its season is drawing to a close and its job, to make a seed to reproduce; is almost done. So the fruit hurries up and ripens early to ensure a mature seed is produced. Now we are working extra long hours to get everything picked, packed and to market. Our fruit season began very late and the flavor wasn't up to its full potential. But since we have had a couple of mini heat waves, we are back on track. Flavor, color, size and a huge assortment of varieties are available. We are thankful for the break in the weather, below 100 degrees. It gives us a chance to catch our breath. The plums and pluots have finally started ripening. Probably faster than we needed but we’re glad to have the variety. Customers have noticed and commented on the higher sugar levels in the fruit lately, as opposed to the early season fruit. Thank goodness. Stop in and try them for yourself at the Farmers’ Market or our farm in Wheatland. Melons will be late this year. The soil temperatures were just too cold to plant the heat-loving plants early. The farmers who did plant multiple crops are actually harvesting their second planting before their first planting. It seems the cold soil has stunted the plant growth, preventing fruit set. Crazy year! The farmers who covered their plants with protective row covers (like green house tunnels) are just starting to pick a few melons. Be patient as I'm told they are only a couple of weeks away. That is, if all the critters leave them alone. They seem to be in full force this year and have furious appetites. We know that a certain amount is always a sacrifice to the rabbits, gophers and so forth, but come on, leave us something! We usually plant a donation row of sweet melons, such as ambrosia or even Armenian cucumbers, along the outer edge of the garden and hopefully they will dine there and leave the rest of the garden alone. Notice I said "hopefully." We have a crew of five dogs and numerous cats on duty but we have plenty of melons to spare. The gophers ruined our artichoke patch and we are going to have to replant, probably in a different location to keep them guessing. This is a game we play with Mother Nature every season. Search and Find. Sometimes we win and sometimes they win. Farming is definitely a challenge. Cantaloupe sorbet (My favorite) 2/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 3 cups 1-inch pieces peeled and seeded cantaloupe (about 1/2 cantaloupe) Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Transfer to 11x7x2 inch glass dish and chill until cold, about two hours. Puree cantaloupe in blender until smooth. Add to sugar syrup in dish and stir until well blended. Freeze until almost firm, stirring occasionally, at least three hours or overnight. Transfer cantaloupe mixture to large bowl. Use electric mixer, beat until fluffy, Return to freezer and freeze until firm (do not stir), at least three hours or overnight. Cover and keep frozen. Chilled Cantaloupe Soup (easy) 1 cantaloupe peeled, seeded and cubed 2 cups orange juice 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon Peel seed and cube the melon. Place cantaloupe and 1/2 cup orange juice in a blender or food processor: cover and process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in lime juice, cinnamon, and remaining orange juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Garnish with mint, if desired. Serves 6 Mint and Melon Soup Flesh from 2 cantaloupes, chopped 1 cucumber, chopped and seeded 1 teaspoon maple syrup 1 tablespoon lemon rind, grated 1 cup water 3 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste Juice from 1 lemon Lemon wedges, (to garnish) Heat the melon and the cucumber in a saucepan with the maple syrup, lemon rind and water. Stir from time to time and simmer for 10 minutes. Add mint. Blend, season and then add lemon juice. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for two hours before serving. Serve with lemon wedges. Watermelon Salsa! 8 cups cubed seeded watermelon 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped 1/2 large white onion, chopped 2 jalapeno peppers- stemmed, seeded and minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon salt Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight for best flavor. This sweet and spicy fruit salsa will have you coming back for more. Billie Jean Salle is the Sierra Fresh Farmers manager.