Eat Local: How ‘Bout Them Melons?

I awoke on Halloween morning to darkened skies and this odd plink-plink-plink sound. I live in an older home, which means the household fix-it list grows daily, and my first thought was “Oh f—. Now what?!” It took a minute of coming to and realizing that it was raining outside, and what I was hearing was the tinny sound of rain hitting the gutters. Oh yeah, fall weather has really arrived in the 650! I pulled the comforter up to my chin and granted myself another 15 minutes in bed just to listen to the light patter of rain and water running through the downspout outside my bedroom window.

As I was lying there, comfy-cozy and enjoying the sound of the rain, I started thinking about soup. And roasted vegetables. And pie. Mmmm, pie. Something about our fall weather makes me want to get cooking; to stock up on those belly-filling comfort foods. Yep, I was rolling with the food fantasies right up until got my ass out of bed, padded into the kitchen, and opened my refrigerator. Oh, right. The leftovers.

Despite my best efforts, there is always some combination of CSA ingredients I didn’t get through last week, or the week before, or the week before that. And because I’m determined to reduce food waste, I’m hard pressed to toss out something unless it’s truly gross. Which means that there is always some sort of interesting science experiment happening in my fridge. For example, how long can you keep end-of-summer melons in the coldest part of your refrigerator? A month? Two months? Um, we’ll get to that.

What often starts as well-intentioned “I could make something cool with that,” after a week or two becomes “I should cook/eat/freeze that.” And then life happens: I forget, run out of time, end up doing something else — sound familiar? Weeks (yes, weeks) go by, and bruises and soft spots start to form on that once firm, ripe piece of produce, and now I’m down to two options: purée (fruit) or roast (veg). Aw, shit. Ok, ok, I’ll definitely do it Tomorrow. Or the next day. (You’ve seen this movie, right?)

So I opened the refrigerator again, determined to deal with my long-running melon experiment. The honeydew, at one-month old, was hanging in there. A couple of browning spots on the skin, but otherwise, reasonably firm. I put it back in the bottom of the fridge. (See how this works?) But the once-beautiful baby seedless watermelon had some, let’s call it give when I pressed on it. Ick. And a couple of black spots had started to grow on the skin. Ew. So, I don’t want to eat it, but I just can’t commit to throwing it out. Let me put it back in the fridge, until I can… what? Hmm, I’m not really making any progress (or room) here. Why do we do that — leave things in the fridge until they’re past their prime?! It’s not like they’re going to throw themselves out (ohmygod, did I just channel my mother?) And they sure don’t get better with age. That’s the thing with refrigerators: close the door, and it’s out of sight, out of mind. Well, until things get too soft, too squishy, or too stinky. sigh.

So, a cup of tea and a shower later, I’ve decided: I’m goin’ in. I’m going to cut those babies open, and if the fruit is reasonable, I’ll purée both melons and then figure out what to do with results. See? Progress. To my surprise and despite brown spots, black spots and give, the flesh of both melons was still sweet, if a bit overripe. So, I cut away the rinds, removed all the seeds, and thanks to my trusty workhorse food processor, ended up with some fine-looking purées. I strained both to remove any bits of seed and fibrous remnants. To give you an idea of yields, the watermelon produced a bit more than 8 ounces of juice, while the honeydew gave about 32 ounces.

Watermelon, when puréed is gorgeous, with a lovely, lightly floral scent and pretty pink color that immediately evokes summer days.

Fresh (mostly), organic watermelon juice
Fresh (mostly), organic watermelon juice

What to do with it to bring a little summer to a rainy fall day? You could add a little lime juice, sweetener, water, and mint (to taste) to make an agua fresca. Or freeze the watermelon juice in ice-cube or pop molds to make an easy frozen treat for the kids. Want a more “adult” option? Try the Salted Watermelon Tequila Smash created by Chris Lane of San Francisco’s Lolinda for Imbibe Magazine. Floral, fruity, smoky and different from your standard margarita, I’ll be adding this one to my summer cocktail repertoire next year.

Salted Watermelon Tequila Smash, recipe from Imbibe Magazine
Salted Watermelon Tequila Smash, recipe from Imbibe Magazine: Look at that color!

Honeydew melon, on the other hand, does end up a bit thicker when puréed, but no less fragrant or colorful.

Honeydew puree: ready for pops, cocktails, smoothies, or soup!
Honeydew puree: ready for pops, cocktails, smoothies, or soup

Not quite as liquid as the watermelon, it has a bit of body — but the same options remain: agua fresca, frozen treats, or try your hand at an adult beverage. I made these cute star-shaped pops; they definitely taste like fresh honeydew, and bonus!: no added sugar.

Honeydew pops: all fruit, no sugar!
Honeydew pops: all fruit, no added sugar!

You could also use honeydew purée in fruit smoothies or to create a refreshing fruit soup (with fresh mint still going in my garden, I’m thinking about this one from the James Beard website).

Am I feeling a bit smug — kinda like I got away with something? A bit. I kept those melons waaaaay past their prime and still got to enjoy them. Although I should say that because both fruits were overripe, their lifespan in puréed form is pretty limited. I’ve noticed a dropoff in flavor — especially with the watermelon juice — after a couple of days. But hey, this last-ditch effort bought me a few more days and a last chance to use both melons, not to mention feeling a little bit of summer in the middle of fall. And isn’t that what preserving is about anyway — getting to revisit the bounty of the growing season, even when it’s long gone? I don’t recommend keeping fruit for months on end, by the way. They’re really meant to be enjoyed fresh, but if you find yourself in the “experimentation” phase, don’t give up. You never know what you might discover!juices

So, I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours — what’s hiding in your fridge that you just can’t bring yourself to toss out, and why?



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