The case of the mystery melons

Heirloom melonFor the last month or so, we’ve received various melons in our CSA box from Eatwell Farm. Each one has been different, and the accompanying newsletter tells us to visit Seed Savers Exchange’s website to identify what we have.

Seed Savers sounds really cool. It’s a nonprofit formed by growers who save and share heirloom seeds, “forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations.” They maintain Heritage Farm, 890 acres near Decorah, Iowa, as a living museum of historic varieties.

However, I couldn’t find either of the two melons we got on the website. (Up until now, I had just been eating them and not bothering to identify them.) The website has about 40 pictures and descriptions of the melons, but ours didn’t seem to be among them.

I went looking back through past Eatwell newsletters to see if there was more information on the melons, and came across a short article by our farmer, Nigel Walker. (Nigel was quoted in "Harvest with a Pedigree," an SF Chronicle article about heirloom tomatoes and melons.) “Not all heirloom varieties are good,” he wrote in our newsletter. “They may be very good in a specific location with a unique microclimate but not everywhere.” That’s why he grows more than 50 varieties every year, "to find out which ones do best."

So I decided instead of just scarfing down the melons, I would photograph them and actually consider their taste.

heirloom melonI will call them Stripey Greenish (first picture) and Mottled Orangeish (second pic). Stripey Greenish had very firm, slightly bitter flesh, with a flavor like a less-sweet honeydew. The taste was not very strong, and overall the melon was kind of bland. Plus, it had a low flesh-to-rind ratio, which I think is rather important. Mottled Orangeish, however, had a high flesh-to-rind ratio, and it was neither firm nor squishy-mealy. It also had a highly unusual flavor, sort of a cantaloupe mixed with rosewater, or orange blossom — something faintly floral. I ate some of each, and after guiltily contemplating just tossing the Stripey Greenish, cut them both up and stored them in a Tupperware.

The next day, I was surprised to find that my impressions had drastically changed. Stripey Greenish no longer tasted bitter, and had held its texture nicely, while Mottled Orangeish had gone totally mealy and its flavor had evaporated. This would be problematic if it were to be stored and shipped any great distances, or sold as those pre-cut, packaged melon chunks for incredibly lazy people.

Up until a few months ago my melon experience was limited to bland, hard supermarket cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons. Stripey Greenish and Mottled Orangeish are not candidates for the grocery store. So what? While I can’t say I loved either one of these melons, the fact that they exist — and that they’re so unusual I can’t even determine what they are — makes me really happy.

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