Island Fresh: Melons

(click on logo to learn more about the Buy Local campaign on the CTAHR site)

One of the things we’ve always been passionate about is eating local produce as much as possible. Yes, we’re tempted away sometimes by beautiful Brussel sprouts or white asparagus that have travelled from farther than the Neighbor Islands, and some staples like our beloved rice and even russet potatoes are just not grown around here.

But living in Hawaii you almost have to work NOT to eat local produce daily. A wide array of gorgeous locally grown produce is available seasonally all year round — from asparagus to zucchini, and just about everything in between.

The “Island Fresh: Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign is in its third year now. Sponsored jointly by the Hawaii Farm Bureau, the state’s Department of Agriculture, and the UH-College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), the promotion of “Island Fresh” has enjoyed new vigor in the last few months, especially with the wave of food scares this year in the U.S. Most recently, it’s E. coli bacteria causing food poisonings; the primary suspect, tomatoes. Hawaii is one of the few states that has not reported cases in this latest scare.

Download a poster from CTAHR showing
fruit and vegetable seasonal availability in Hawaii throughout the year, and never miss a season!

Summer time is melon time, and there are few things more refreshing than a chilled slice of melon in the midst of summer heat. We’re fortunate to have one of the best producers of sweet, true-tasting melons just down the road between Ewa and Kapolei. Aloun Farms grows these honeydew, cantaloupe and miniature Thai watermelons, as well as a wealth of other produce, including the Ewa sweet onions we used in the
Four Allii Tart earlier. We’ve found melons from Aloun at almost all the supermarkets, as well as farmers’ markets, festivals, and the fresh produce stand outside the Farm on Farrington Highway on the way to Kapolei. We especially love the tiny Thai watermelons, which are slightly larger than a cantaloupe, with few seeds, and a deep watermelon flavor. It’s also the perfect size for our two-person household.

We look for melons that are heavy for their size, and for honeydew and cantaloupe that are fragrant at the stem end. If you aren’t going to serve them right away, we’ve found it helpful in Hawaii to wrap the fruit in newspaper to keep the inevitable bugs away. When ready to use, wash the melons well before slicing in a solution of 2 tablespoons of vinegar for every 1 quart/liter of cool water. Although you may not eat the melon rind, it’s important to wash the outside because bacteria and other cooties on the outside rind can be transported into the flesh by your own knife action while slicing the melon.

And if you need any more incentive to eat melons, especially watermelon — did you catch the news making headlines last week that watermelon “is richer than experts believed in an amino acid called citrulline, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels much like Viagra(see full article on WebMD). Although scientists are still not entirely sure just how much watermelon a person would have to consume to experience Viagra-like effects, they agree that it is still a nutrient-rich, low-calorie snack full of potassium, lycopene and carotene. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views these 3 melons as cool and sweet in nature, meaning they clear heat from the body and have properties that tonify the kidneys with their high water content.

There are few better ways to eat melons than simply peeled and cooled, although many cultures in tropical climates also dip or sprinkle salt and hot sauce on fruits, including melons, pineapples, mangoes, and papayas. Growing up, I often opted for the salt and hot sauce, but more often now it’s just the pure fruit.

However, a couple of weeks ago we did try this novel Pasta with Cantaloupe Sauce we saw on Rowena’s site. A sweet pasta sauce? — sounds pretty wild, doesn’t it? You can’t believe how incredible the combination is until you taste it for yourself — sweet cantaloupe with savory ingredients like parmesan, grape tomatoes (from Oahu’s North Shore in Kahuku), cream and butter!

Rowena’s version highlights the musky flavors of the Tuscan melons she finds in the Italian Alps, but we can testify that Ewa cantaloupes shine in this unique treatment as well. In fact, it’s on the menu again this week! The key to this recipe is the freshness and natural sweetness of the melon, so use whatever is local in your region. In fact, when I went shopping with this cantaloupe sauce in mind, the market was carrying muskmelons similar to the Tuscan melons, but these were not local. The far-travelled muskmelons had no fragrance at all, and experience hard-learned (and at great expense) taught that this would probably taste bland and watery despite their price tag more than double the local melons.

The cantaloupe sauce comes out this gorgeous deep orange hue, with the most gratifying juxtaposition of mint and umami-rich fresh-grated parmesan. We halved the original recipe to serve this as a first course (rather than a whole meal), followed by a piquant piccata-style pork. It was the perfect point and counter-point, especially with a crisp California pinot gris. We recommend this to everyone during this summer melon season.

Get the recipe at
Rubber Slippers in Italy then go get you a melon!

For more recipes using both local and other produce, see
5-A-Day, and Mangoes.