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Crane Melon Barn (Santa Rosa)

Friday afternoon I returned to Sonoma County from Napa taking the Carneros Highway to hook up with 116 and head north on Petaluma Hill Road to the Crane Melon Barn south of Santa Rosa. Along the way I passed by Grossi Farms where I bought my melons two years ago, but the stand here only had fall pumpkins for sale.

The Crane Melon Barn's open for business now with posted hours of 10-6. After last week's experience at Valley End Farm, I was expecting an even headier aroma in this enclosed space. But these melons didn't throw off as much scent as Valley End's either in the barn or transporting them in my car. They're one cent less per pound here, and my five for the picnic weighed in at just under 30 pounds for $29.21.

Despite my concerns about the fainter aroma, the proof is in the tasting, and these were just fine on the appetizer table. I had asked the woman at the barn to pick out very ripe examples for immediate eating. And, I didn't refrigerate them, but kept them in the car overnight. The texture of these seemed a bit softer than the Valley End Farms melons. They were less perfumey, but about the same level of sweetness and complexity of flavor.

I also learned from one of the other customers there that the Crane melons in the grocery stores in June and early summer come from Texas, and don't come close in flavor. So, go now in early fall and buy a locally grown Crane melon for the peak of ripeness.

Images of the Crane Melon Barn
http://static.flickr.com/117/26419224...

Valley End Farm posting
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. I did that tour today. Did you mean to have more pictures? Your post says images, but only the image with the Crane sign appears.

    I really dug the place. With a name I expected sort of a big commercialized type place. Nope ... sign, big brown barn, melons piled on a concrete floor, farm ... and Zoe the dog greeting you at the entrance.

    I didn't bother calling and just decided to drive up. I figured I would at least look at it.

    Love the prices at Valley End Farm. The heirlooms went up to $1.50, but the other tomatoes were $1. The guy at the stand said that Grossi was his dad.

    For me, the Crane melon from Valley wasn't as good as the melon from the Crane ranch. I agree neither was too perfumy unopend.

    However, the beautiful frangrance from the real Crane melon, so to speak, knocked me out it was so wonderful. Lots of flavor nuances, even a little banana.

    They also had a pile of split melons for $.69 and some watermelons for $.49.

    The watermelons need a few weeks more in the field. This was watermelon classic. Everything on the watermelon checklist was there ... heavy for size, deep color, creamy spot ... even bee stings ... the woman at the stand picked it out for me, and I would have picked that melon too.

    Then the sinking feeling when that knife goes in and ... you know ... too early. The only thing that should have been a tip off was the stem was still attached and still green.

    Still edible and delicous, but I'll bet this is really amazing when it is ready.

    Grossi was kind of cool and very ... autumn. With the dirt road leading to the stand lined with trees sporting the colors of autumn. It isn't commercial either. Just the little stand ... no pumpking trains, corn mazes, etc, etc. If you like they give you a wheelbarrow and you go out in the field to pick your own (NOT my thing, though).

    Some lovely potted herbs that included wormwood. Very pretty hollow dried empty gourds on display that looked like burnished copper. Pumpkin prices by size from $2 - $15.

    Thanks for your excellent directions in tbe Valley End Farm post.

    With the mention of Lola's I finally stopped by there. Great market, like a small El Tigre. I haven't seen those big pans of fresh yogurt since San Diego. Love that the panadria items are labeled by name. Food looked good but my calories today were targeted for ice cream. I eyed the nice-looking chorizo, but the food gods directed me somewhere else today though I had thought the chorizo crawl was over.

    I stopped by Screaming Mimi's on the way back and they have Crane melon sorbet on their product list ... but none today ... rats.

    Previous Crane Melon Barn post
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    5 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Lola's has some great produce that is hard to find even in L.A.... particularly Huazontle (aka Aztec Brocoli)... nearly impossible to find anywhere else. There are so many interesting things there I could give culinary tours of that place.

      BTW... I think the pans of yogurt you are referring to are is the Michoacan style crema (cultured sour cream similiar to Lebneh but with a less heady flavor).

        1. re: rworange

          Nope I am wrong... I haven't noticed the yogurt then... I must try.

          I am not quite sure how Mexican yogurt compares to the places were yogurt originated... but there always seemed to be something very legitimate about the yogurt served in Mexico... less gelatinous...much more sour & tangy with a little bit of gamey flavor found even in the Frozen Yogurt.

        2. re: Eat_Nopal

          If you have any garden space, huazontle is dead easy to grow. It's a member of the lambs-quarter family which is a common weed (and also edible, though not as pretty). They grow like weeds, really.

          1. re: Karen_Schaffer

            I do have some space...could you please enlighten me on how to start it (I am not exactly a horticulturalist) & when do you plant in Nor. Cal?

            Thanx!

      1. Thanks for the review... had a crane melon from Oliver's today it was much better than the one I got from Bob's fruit truck three weeks back (they must be closer to season).

        I look forward to trying this place... since Oliver should be taken out back & shot for his prices (on average 25 to 50% higher than Whole Foods). I have also dug the small produce shop on Russian River Rd & Fulton Rd (just off the 101 on the way to Korbel)

        1. There are three images framed in that file stacked on top of each other, try scrolling down.

          Oliver's had a great cheese counter. Also like the roast chicken and the tri-tip, never really bought grocery staples there. The small produce stand in Fulton is Mike's Truck Garden. Affordable, locally grown produce. It closes for the winter.
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          4 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            The cheese counter at Oliver's is certainly compelling... but boy are they price! Ouch! I bought a 7 pound Turkey breast on the bone.... $29! Two years ago at Whole Foods (WLA) I bought a whole, free range, heirloom turkey for about $35.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              That's apples and oranges and disparate time frames. Try Willie Bird.
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I had Willie Bird at the Wednessday Farmer's Market... do they sell raw turkey (which is what I bought at Olivers)?

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  They raise turkeys, they sell raw and cooked turkeys and other poultry. See the link above, I said everything there.

          2. I'm going to have to trek up there some day. I tried growing Cranes in my garden this year, figuring San Jose ought to be enough like Sonoma, but none of them have been worth eating. The perfume has been nice, but they haven't been nearly sweet enough, unlike the Ambrosias, which have been, well, ambrosial! Plus the Crane vines are dead now and the Ambrosias are still going strong with at least 5 melons still ripening.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

              Having had my first Crane melon this year and knowing little about them, take this FWIW. I suspect weather conditions were not right for that melon this year with all that rain and everything being late.

              It was the second best melon I've had this year, with Ogen melons beating them. Many melon varieties were amazing this year and a few tanked. (You gotta plant some of those Ogen melons next year).

              That softness in texture that Melanie mentioned in the picnic Crane melons might have to do with the melon soaking up too much water. The melon I bought earlier at Berkeley Bowl had that texture.

              One thing I forgot to mention is that Crane will mark your melon as to ripeness. I took Melonie's idea of as at the other stand for the vendor to pick out the melons and to give me melons that would last over a week. They then marked the melons 1,2,3,4 ($19 worth of 4).

              The other thing about Crane melons, IMO, the larger the better. The melon from Valley was about medium canteloupe size and was almost equal portions of flesh to green rind.

              I was so charmed by the simplicity of the Crane melon barn I forgot to ask the HOW to select a ripe melon. Looking at my melons, it seems the paler the color, the less ripe. As they ripen there is a more yellow color with the markings turning deep brown. Anyone have clues about what to look for in a perfectly ripe Crane melon?

              1. re: rworange

                I don't want to detour too long into gardening, but this was actually a GREAT year in San Jose for melons. We had lots of hot weather which melons like. My Ambrosia, Galia, Collective Farm Woman, and Rocky Ford/Eden's Gem were excellent. But my Crane, Swan Lake, and Prescott Fond Blanc were all perfumed yet not very sweet. My conclusion is that those melons just aren't suited for this climate, if they weren't good in this nearly optimal year. Maybe it's warmer still in Sonoma. I've never actually compared. Or maybe their growing location is particularly good.

                Prescott Fond Blanc is such a wonderfully bizarre looking melon (a class called rock melons) that I really wished it tasted better. Has anyone here ever tasted one, either commercially or home-grown?

                And yes, Ogen/Haogen is great! I need to grow it again next year.

                Picture/description of Prescott Fond Blanc:
                http://www.seedsavers.org/prodinfo.as...

                1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                  Actually it's cooler in Sonoma with more maritime influence and cooler nights.

            2. Just wanted to thank you, Melanie, for bringing the availability of Crane melons to our attention. I went up to the Crane Melon Barn on Saturday and had them help me pick out four melons (of varying ripeness). I can't directly compare the aroma of the barn from the time you visited, but I was amazed at how succulent the place smelled. Must be a plot to get visitors to buy more melons.

              We've eaten one and it was incredible. And infinitely better than the horrid canteloups found on the breakfast trays of various meetings and events.

              Crane Melon Barn's on my list of places to visit next year when I get that craving. For now, they're open until the end of the month.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Peter Yee

                Just want to let you know, should you have the same situation as I did ... even if the melon looks like it went bad, it really isn't.

                The juiciness of two of the melons was such that two of the melons that were sitting on the table were so heavy that part of the melon flattened under the weight and one started to mold.

                Well ... $20 bucks worth of melons ... I was going to salavge as much as I could. Just cut of the part that was moldy and the rest of the melon was fine.

                When the markings start to turn brown, it is time to cut that melon.

                Good word ... succulence ... these melons are succulant.

                1. re: rworange

                  Yeah, I was urged to eat the melons I bought immediately. Well, the one I had leftover went to Salinas to my parents after I was careful to keep it refrigerated for two days. Then I noticed that my mother had put it in the garage and not in her refrigerator...surely it would be overripe. Naw, it was just right, perhaps more "musky" than the ones eaten earlier, and would be considered better for those who like that character. My mother couldn't believe how juicy it was.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Would you then consider buying a split melon since it seems some of the melon can be salvaged?

                    Personally, I'm eating my 4 melons as fast as they become fully ripe. They're so good, I'm not giving them time to mold. :-)

                    Definitely succulent. What a treat.

                    1. re: Peter Yee

                      I don't know. I didn't look closely at the split melons. They also refrigerate nicely without losing anything. I usually cut it up in cubes and refrigerate what I don't eat and it has been great up to three days later, actually quite delicious juicy-cold.