Last week we talked at length about how great our melons are looking in the store right now. Our honeydew and cantaloupe are absolutely bursting with the sweetest flavors imaginable. We also showed you what to look for in the store to ensure you’re always going home with the very best melon possible.
Today we’re going to talk about something a little bit off the beaten path. Have you ever heard of heirloom tomatoes? Probably. But have you ever heard of or purchased heirloom melons? Possibly not. The heirloom melon variety, such as the Ambrosia, Haogen, Crane, Charentais and Tuscan, are derived from seeds that haven’t been hybrid with for 80 years or longer. It’s now that time of year where most of these varieties are in season so you can expect to see all or most of them in our store as we get deeper into the summer.
Heirloom Tuscan melons are so much more than just your typical cantaloupes. These vintage varieties are a big reason heirloom melons are quite the rage right now. And that’s important, because many varieties could face extinction if local farmers aren’t able to sell their rare varieties – like the ugly-looking but delicious Haogen – due to the public’s lack of awareness of them.
That’s where one of our many local farmers, Don Smith of Turlock Fruit Company, steps in. His parents started their melon-farming odyssey back in 1918. Fast forward nearly 100 years later and both Don’s son and grandson are busy running the family business. The Smith’s grow, pick and ship their melons all on their own, which is why their produce is so consistently sweet, tasty and near perfection.
“Our heirloom Tuscan melons possess an incredibly strong and robust flavor,” Don Smith said from company headquarters in Turlock, CA. “You could almost say it has a pungent odor too. That’s probably why we have such a devoted group that loves our heirloom Tuscan melons so much.”
Don and his company actually grow nine varieties of melons. Considering Sigona’s carries so many of their beautiful creations, there’s a good chance you can get your hands on any number of them today. This includes one of their most popular non-heirloom varieties, the orange flesh melon, which Don said is seeing consumption go up year after year.
So why is Turlock Fruit Company able to produce the best heirloom melons in California? “We’re growing them on some of the best production melon ground in the state, which is located west of the San Joaquin Valley,” Don stated as we wrapped up our chat. “The temperatures are ideal – warm days and mild nights featuring a 30-degree swing.”
You don’t necessarily have to be a veteran farmer to grow and enjoy heirloom melons, although climate similar to that of Turlock Fruit Company is pretty helpful. Part of the reason for the growing popularity of this fruit is the ability to attain seeds from all over the world and to grow the melons right in your very own backyard. (Seed Savers Exchange is a great place to attain heirloom melon seeds.) Warm summer temperatures in the days with mellow nights, around 6 to 8 feet of space around each plant and careful watering is the key to growing them. Whether you attain seeds from a farmer in Turkey or a friend down the street, growing and eating some of the rarest but most delightful melons on the face of the earth is right at your fingertips.
Don’t forget to check out our recipe for Heirloom Tuscan Melon with Prosciutto and a Drizzle of Local Raw Blackberry Honey. It’ll come in very handy this month when you pick up your own fresh and local heirloom melons from Sigona’s Farmers Market.