Saturday, September 19, 2009

Before the Rain Came

Sometimes the most delightful moments of the year are also the most fleeting. The melon season in the Northwest is such a fleeting moment. This was a devastating year for melons, as Anthony & Carol Boutard at Ayer's Creek Farm called it quits on their beloved charentais crops, and the heavy rains that came the first week of September wiped out everyone else. Like other late summer fruits, such as the tomato and grape, heavy rains oversaturate the fruit and cause splitting and diluted flavor. I bought the last of my local butterscotch melons from Creative Growers in that first week of September.

I managed to get a small salad on the menu before the season ended. It was a salad of melons and lemon cucumbers with house cured lardo and prosciutto, pine nuts, green coriander dressing and wood sorrel. I originally ran this dish as a special with Anthony's Sweet Seduction grapes, but later decided to leave them out, so the rich, tender melon could shine.

I had just begun curing and hanging lardo and guanciale (pork jowl) for the coming fall and winter. Wood sorrel (oxalis montana) is a wild herb that I have been foraging this year (the rains which brought about the end of melon season have ushered in the local chanterelle, pictured below with wild wood sorrel), and I now cultivate it at home as well. It is not a true sorrel, but has a similar herbal sourness. I find it a little more approachable than sheep sorrel (rumex acetosella).

Anthony shared his reason why they won't be planting melons again next year. He couldn't deal with the heartache anymore:

"Sadly the warm nights over the last week (8/9) have reduced the sugar content of this years crop. They are good, but not the usual sublime confections. On average, we harvest between 25 and 30% of the melons. Last year the quality was very high. In this planting we may not even pull off 5%... Good melons have a corky webbing on their skin, those lacking the cork are inferior and not worth picking. Most of the field is smooth skinned."

Anthony also recalled the old market farmer who said you only plant melons for five years before you never want to see them again. Ayers Creek Farm held out for eight years!

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