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Aug 23, 2012 07:58 AM

Bad year for melons?

I obsess over melons each summer, especially cantaloupes and ambrosias. After years of throwing away many melons, I developed a technique that has served me pretty well: I go to Berkeley Bowl and other markets that sell cut melons, look for ones with good color, then I use the finger test to see if they are soft or hard, soft being the goal.

Last year I thought I had found my reliable melon: the Tuscan cantaloupe. In the winter I was getting Tuscans from Central America, then the local ones showed up. They were amazing: sweet, soft, and flavorful. This year I didn't see any Tuscans from Central America early in the year, and the local ones have been pale, hard, and without much flavor.

Sharlyns, which have usually been pretty dependable in past years, have also been hard and not very good.

River Dog Farm and other places offer Charantais melons, but they always disappoint in this country. (In France, you go to a market and smell the Charantias from 20 feet away. I've never had one in this country that comes close to what you can get in France.)

Right now I have a cut watermelon in the fridge that has no sweetness at all; a hard sharlyn with almost no flavor; and another greenish melon I think is a Piel de Sapo, which is also uninteresting.

Berkeley Bowl has had melons I think are called Sugar Kist. They have been reliably sweet, but they're kind of crispy and, aside from sweetness, just don't have much taste.

Have others found this year's melons disappointing? Any suggestions for reliable melons? (I'm not a fan of honeydews or orange honeydews.)

I'm waiting for Crane melons, which can be fantastic, but last year I drove up to Santa Rosa to visit the Crane Melon Barn and came home with two lousy melons.

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  1. The only good melons I've found in recent years were from Tecklenburg / Orozco Garcia, which used to sell at the San Mateo and Concord farmers markets, and Crane Melon Barn. Last year was a tough year for Crane, late season and then rain, I had one perfect melon and one mediocre split one.

    1. There were many kinds (8-10 varieties) of melons at the Alemany farmers market last Saturday, and some with samples. I bought a large Sharlyn for $3 and it has smelled up the house quite well. I also found an oval, seeded watermelon at a Mexican market on San Mateo Ave in San Bruno for $5. It probably weighed 20-25 lbs and is very sweet . Sadly, many melons will be gone soon.

      1. Hmm, I think if you ask the farmers they'll say it was an outstanding year for melons because of the heat. They did come in early this year (in May/June?) so I'm not sure if it's still peak season. I've had some really good ones in Berkeley/Oakland FMs from County LIne and esp the stand with the yarn (Full Belly I think). I reliably buy good fruit by smell.

        8 Replies
        1. re: rubadubgdub

          County Line used to come to the Saturday Berkeley farmers market in the winter, but they don't come at all. I rarely get to the Oakland market, but I gather they still come there? (The one under the freeway.)

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thanks, Robert. I'd forgotten they come to the Ferry Plaza market, which I plan on visiting Saturday morning. Maybe they'll have a decent melon. I don't think it's too late for melons. In fact, it seems to me late August/early September is a good time for melons. That's when the Cranes show up.

              1. re: TopoTail

                Checked out County Line at the Ferry Plaza market today, but they didn't have any melons. The thing I like County Line for is the chicories they have in the winter. They used to come to the Saturday market in Berkeley in the winter, but don't come any more, unfortunately.

          1. re: rubadubgdub

            I'm in the Full Belly CSA, I don't believe I've ever had a great melon from them. I haven't seen any melons at the Berkeley market this year that smelled like anything yet. They all plant these awful modern varieties that tip off green, or else just pick too early.

            I saw some nice-smelling ones in the Monte Rio general store the other day.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Weird, I'm pretty sure it was them. It was earlier in the season on a Tuesday FM and they were pushing the melons because they had so many. They didn't say what kind but I ended up with 3 for $10 and they were wonderfully aromatic and sweet including a green variety melon that I let sit in my fridge for a few weeks and it was still great. (Right now they have the most incredible O'Henry peaches but that is a diff topic.) County Line is at the Oakland Grand Lake market on Sat.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I have had phenomenal cantaloupe from Full Belly in past years, but all the melons in my CSA box this year have been just so-so. They are always very aromatic, though. A green-fleshed one we had last week was pretty good with prosciutto; the salty meat helped the melon seem sweeter.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I got some kind of big, heavy, orangeish, smooth-skinned melon in my Full Belly box this week. Underripe as usual (not that Full Belly's any different from anyone else on that score).

                  I'm experimenting with making Southeast Asian-style salads to try to make these underripe melons palatable. I made a good one last year but forgot to write down the recipe.

              2. I've gotten a couple of good ones at Scotty's Market in San Rafael/Terra Linda. They have reliably good produce there.

                1. I just finished my 1st Piel de Sapo from Full Belly I think (the lower of the 2 larger farms on the left as you walk down Center). It didn't seem very sweet, but was OK. Got one last Sunday from Pinnacle at Temescal. Full Belly was giving out tastes of a very refreshing yellow watermelon 2 weeks ago.

                  My neighbor planted some watermelons in my West Berkeley ackyard this year. I was amazed that he has 3 or 4.

                  Has anyone seen any Casabas?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                    Saw some casaba melons at Alemany in a stall at the east end.

                    1. re: chocolatetartguy

                      I got a Piel de Sapo from Pinnacle last week. It was sweet, I guess, but kind of hard and didn't have much flavor. Bought two ambrosias from different stands at the Ferry Plaza market this morning. They were both about the same: mildly sweet, not too hard, not much flavor. I give them a B -.

                      But speaking of Pinnacle, and changing the topic, their Beefsteak tomatoes are to die for. At $2/lb. they are better than any heirlooms I have ever tasted. They are dead ripe and red through and through. I load up on them every Sunday at the Temescal market and devour them throughout the week. Made a fantastic marinara sauce with some last week. Do check them out. You won't regret it.