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July 2011 Issue
My Ohio Recipes: Make the Most of Melon Season
Summer flavor starts with a smash at Tender Shoot Farm.
Dave Weilnau hefts a watermelon over his head and throws it to the ground, shattering it into jagged chunks. “That,” he says, “is how you tell if a watermelon is ripe!” It’s a technique not recommended for those searching for perfectly ripe, sweet melon in the grocery store, at a farmers market or at a roadside stand, but it’s a time-honored method among growers in the field.
It’s that time of year when many of your favorite farm products are coming into season. Ohio Farm Bureau
members (and that includes consumers like you) have unique access to information about Ohio food and farms through the organization’s Our Ohio consumer brand. Farm Bureau members can learn about many Ohio food and farm stories through the Our Ohio brand, which includes a magazine, TV series, Grow and Know educational events, website and social media.
Melon grower Dave Weilnau, an Ohio Farm Bureau member from Erie County, has been growing the sweet summer fruit for 16 years on a portion of his 65-acre farm in Milan. “I’ve seen people knock, smell, even shake melons,” he says, adding that breaking open the shell and tasting is the only proven method for determining ripeness.
A former educator, Weilnau came back to the family’s farm in 1975 to temporarily help his father tend 800 acres of small grain. Although Weilnau and his two brothers grew up on this farm raising vegetables such as corn, cabbage and potatoes, none intended on pursuing farming as a career. Yet today, from most vantage points on Weilnau’s land, you can see both of his brothers’ farms, once portions of the family farm.
Weilnau recounts that “back in the day” most of the farmers in this area grew melons, which led to the founding of the now-51-year-old Milan Melon Festival. Today, Tender Shoot Farm is one of two farms left with a melon harvest.
Beginning in late July, early melons such as Aphrodite, small but sweet, and French Orange will start coming out of the fields.
Weilnau says what makes his land ideal for melon growing is the glaciated soil, or “blow sand.” “It’s a fluffy, low organic sand that most farmers don’t like because it dries out and warms up too quickly,” he says. “It’s good for melons, though, because it drains quickly (melons don’t like to lie on a wet soil) and the warm soil helps them ripen.”
Most years, Weilnau will harvest between 3,000 and 5,000 watermelons and 10,000 cantaloupes. The majority of the crop is sold wholesale to IGA and Gardners Foods in Norwalk, Vermilion Farm Market, Penton’s Market in Amherst, the Sandusky Farmers Market, several local orchards and a handful of neighboring roadside stands. A mere fraction of the crop is sold at the community stand on his farm.
While Dave dispels all the rituals and tricks people use to pick melons at the grocery store, he does note that a yellow “belly,” the spot where the melon rests on the ground, is a fairly reliable indicator of ripeness.
Still, he encourages customers to trust their local growers to bring melons to market at their peak of ripeness. “My customers buy from me because they expect something good,” he says. “They can bring it back if they don’t like it, but that’s not likely to happen.”
Cantaloupes and Sugar Spots
While a watermelon continues to ripen slightly after it is picked, cantaloupes have to ripen in the field.
“The more webbing a cantaloupe has, the healthier the vine, the healthier the plant,” says Dave Weilnau of Tender Shoot Farm. Pick it up and sniff: If it smells like a sweet, ripe cantaloupe, it will probably taste like one.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to the cantaloupe when it’s ready to be picked. Two features that Weilnau looks for in the field are a clear cracking or separation of the vine from the melon. “In the final days of ripening, the sugar develops in the melon and the vine pushes or slips away,” he says. “Where the stem was attached, we look for sugar spots,” small beads of amber, sap-like reminders that develop where the stem was attached.
The following recipes are provided by Ohio food writer Marilou Suszko. For more of her recipes, visit OurOhio.org.
Honeydew Melon Salad
Makes 4 servings
Cool off at the end of a hot summer day with this refreshing salad. Chill the melon cubes for just about an hour so they are refreshing, yet the
taste still comes through.
4 cups honeydew or canary melon, slightly chilled
1/2 cup freshly chopped mint leaves, more or less to taste
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves and stems, more or less to taste
3 tablespoons sugar, more or less to taste
1 fresh lime, zested and juiced
Toss all of the ingredients together.
Chill for one hour before serving.
Watermelon, Feta and Fresh Mint Salad
Makes 4 servings
Some people eat their watermelon with a sprinkling of salt. That’s the whole idea behind adding feta to this watermelon salad. The saltiness of the cheese combined with cooling, fresh mint makes this the most refreshing salad of the season.
4 cups diced seedless watermelon, red or yellow fleshed, chilled
1 cup diced feta cheese
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients. Chill to blend flavors. Taste and add salt if desired, but feta cheese serves as the salty component.
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