Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gifts of the Season: Fresh Fruit and Vegetables from the Garden

As I mentioned in my last post and a few other times in the past couple of weeks, our garden is providing plenty for us. Today, it took a new turn and provided about a dozen cucumbers and almost as many melons, to say nothing of the seven hundred billion (slight exaggeration) (mostly cherry-sized) tomatoes that still need to be picked and were ignored since, at best, I can only carry a couple of melons at a time. Almost all of them were the fancy French charentais melons (a/the variety of cantaloupe), and almost all of them were picked because they split. The problem with these melons, as we've experienced it, is that it's hard to tell when they're ripe. Essentially, they're supposed to be mostly yellowish when they're ripe, but only two of the twenty or so that we've picked have reached "yellowish" before they split. I noticed on my cool analytic software that people wonder, like I did, why these melons split. I don't wonder, though. I find out. The reason is rain, which falls in bucket-sized drops here this time of year. When the melons are ripe or close to it, a sudden watering (like from rain) will cause the melon to swell faster than the skin can accommodate, and it cracks, usually along the bottom. All you have to do to see why is cut one of these melons and then take a moment to watch the stem where you cut it... it oozes clear, orangish liquid almost like a slow-flowing tap. That's why they split. Our solution has been to watch the weather and get out there pretty much as soon as possible after it rains. Usually some have already split, so they get cut and eaten forthwith. I don't know what to do with the eight or nine of them that I picked earlier today, though, along with our first watermelon (which we've eaten a little more than half of).

How did I know the watermelon was ready? It didn't split, but I found a handy guide online that indicated that if the stripes become less distinct, the bottom gets a creamy yellow color (instead of white), and the vine half withers, then it's probably ripe. Thumping on it gives a hollow sound, and comparing it against a larger watermelon that didn't make that sound told me that this one was probably ripe. It virtually cut itself (explosively) once I touched the knife to it, so I'm led to believe it too would have split had I not picked it after the torrential rains that fell yesterday and all night. It was pretty good, but more or less, it tasted like clean, pure rainwater. We were a little disappointed, but I wasn't fussed. I do wonder if they taste differently if picked on a day when there's been clear skies and hot sun for a few days straight.

So today, other than a cappuccino with my wife, I've had nothing to eat but fruit... lots of fruit: the gift of the season. I started with probably half a pound of cherries (I freaking love cherries, especially when they're $1.99 a pound)... I can't wait until our little cherry bush/tree starts making them (next year???). The rest has been melons... melons, melons, melons (since they split, they can't really just sit around). Later will probably be something involving cucumbers and tomatoes (a salad?). Eventually, though, I'll eat something more "solid" since my double-secret homemade sourdough starter (to be posted about soon) appears to be ready... I can literally almost watch it grow now. [Edit: soon is now!]

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