Cantaloupe regale

When I first started growing Charentais French breakfast melons from seed I was so hooked that I vowed I would never grow any other cantaloupe again. But a meager harvest last year, and late start due to a cold spring this year made me reconsider. So I bought four cantaloupe seedlings in May, a variety that came with a high recommendation from the nursery owner. Because I treated them rather as a backup, and not like the real thing, I did not even write down what I bought, which I now regret.

I do not regret growing them. For the past ten days my family has been feasting on large, sweet cantaloupes. I also set some super-ripe ones aside to make a few batches of my Cantaloupe Sorbet, yet this time I used lemon verbena instead of lemon balm, which I think is a step up.

The Charentais are just starting to ripen. By the time they are ready to harvest we will have had our fill so we will be quite happy with having a few breakfast-size melons to nibble on.

Finally here but not for long

Within a few days, the Charentais French breakfast melons that I started indoors in the spring have become super ripe. They are so juicy that I have to cut them over a bowl. It was worth the long wait and effort, which included turning part of my office into a greenhouse.

The melons are fairly small so just eating the daily harvest of two to three melons is tempting and easy to do. But I love to capture the wonderful flavor and bright color for grey winter days so I use the ripest melons, even the ones that are a tad overripe, to make sorbet.

There is not much to this recipe other than using only very ripe melons and chilling all the ingredients very well before processing. If you have an ice-cream maker with an open freezing bowl, try to find the coolest spot in your house, even if it’s the hallway or the bathroom, because in a warm or hot environment the end result will be rather crystalline and less smooth.

Cantaloupe Sorbet with Lemon Balm

4 ounces water

5 ounces sugar

14 ounces pulp from very ripe fresh cantaloupe

6 sprigs fresh untreated lemon balm

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, scraping down the sides as it boils. Remove syrup from the heat and let cool. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. Puree the pulp to a smooth consistency. Mix with the lime juice.

3. Strip the leaves off the lemon balm and chop them finely. Mix with the pulp. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

4. Strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Use a silicone spatula to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

5. Measure 8 ounces of syrup and 12 ounces of melon liquid. Mix well. Process in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

6. Fill sorbet in airtight freezer containers and freeze for 12 hours, or until solidly frozen.  Take sorbet out of the freezer 15 to 20 minutes before serving to soften, but not much longer because it melts quickly.

Makes 6 servings

Dressing up for harvest

Since I started freelancing and working from a home office ten years ago I can count the times I have bought pantyhose on two hands. But now pantyhose is on my shopping list – not for myself but for the Charentais melons in my garden.

After a short bout of panic the other day when I thought that the cucumbers, melons, zucchini and winter squash were affected by pests and disease, things are looking great now. I can almost watch the melons grow on the trellis. When they reach the size a bit smaller than a baseball, I place them in pieces of pantyhose (recyclable year after year) tied at the bottom and attach the top to the wire of the trellis with string. This way the weight is taken off the vines and the precious fruit is off the ground and off guard for groundhogs and other predators.

I cannot wait to pick the first melon, especially since there was basically no harvest in the rainy summer of 2009. The sure indicator that the melons are ripe is the fantastic sweet scent all over the garden.

I would write down my recipe for melon sorbet but I am going to wait on that. I don’t want to jinx things with too much optimism. Meanwhile I’ll go out and buy some inexpensive flesh-colored pantyhose.