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Charentais-type French melons would end up at the top of most best-melon lists.
The Melon-Squash Clan Is Liberated in Farmers Markets

From thin-skinned Israeli cantaloupe to yard-long Armenian cucumbers, a cucurbit for every taste

The cucurbit family is yet another line of crops that has been liberated by farmers markets. Take just the melon branch of the family. In the annual melon tasting at the markets sponsored by the Marin County Farmers Market Association each August, up to 20 varieties of melons are offered up. They range from deep-orange and musky to crunchy, sweet, almost-white varieties.

The Charentais-type French melons would end up toward the top of most best-melon lists, says Lynn Bagley, executive director of the Marin association. But other varieties have virtues of their own. Watermelons small enough that you can fit them into your refrigerator without evicting everything else – varieties such as the Minilee, Sugar Baby, and yellow-fleshed Yellow Doll -- are especially popular in farmers market.

What distinguishes many of the melons sold in farmers market is that they’re too thin-skinned. a trait familiar to market regulars. That means that even though they may taste great, they won’t make the cut for shipment to supermarkets.

Douglas Welburn, who grows five kinds of melons in the Fallbrook area for sale in Southern California farmers markets, counts Haogens in this category. A variety developed in Israel, they’re so fragile that "commercial growers can’t touch it," he says. Sid Weiser, whose family farms in the Lucerne Valley, back of Big Bear in San Bernardino County, mentions the Anana melon as an unusually flavorful variety that you probably won’t see anywhere but at a farmers market. Ananas presents a very narrow window of opportunity for harvesting. "You have one day to pick them before they go mushy," Weiser says.

And that’s just a few of the melons. The cucurbit family also includes the multitude of squashes and cucumbers, which appear in countless variations in farmers market this time of year.

Alex and Vilma Causey, who farm near Dinuba and sell in markets in both Northern and Southern California, recently had a diverse array of four unusual cucurbits on display: Minilee watermelons, bitter melons and Opo white squash from China, and Armenian cucumbers up to three feet in length. "Husband beaters," Alex Causey called the latter.

They’re normally eaten at six or eight inches in length. But they stay quite tender even at walking-stick length. Causey, who lived in the Philippines for years, has this exotic recommendation for how to use them. Chill them in the refrigerator then grate the cucumbers, adding mackerel roe, fish flakes and soy sauce.

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef