Mass melon mania at SunSmile Farm
Enjoy I can never remember how to choose a watermelon that’s sweet.
I knock on them like the produce man tells me to do, but I forget. Do the sweet ones make a thud sound or a resonant sound?
Finally, I’ve figured out the secret to choosing a flowery scented, melt on your tongue melon. Buy local!
Melons in the supermarkets are from the central valley (or as far away as Mexico.) They are picked to ship before they fully mature.
At SunSmile Farm in Grass Valley, owner George Loftis and his crew walk the rows of melons on an idyllic hillside and check them every day. The melons are picked when they’re ready to eat.
You’d be sweeter too if you took a lawn chair and lollygagged the afternoons away on the sunny back acres of the Loftis farm.
SunSmile has always been known for their U-pick cherries and peaches, but a late frost this spring destroyed 95% of that crop.
Never one to get discouraged for long, George Loftis, farmer turned quarterback, went onto the fields (in this case the growing fields) and made a quick change of plays.
To financially survive, he and his team of employees planted melons – succession planting every seven to10 days to insure a constant supply and back seeding for extras. Watermelons are not the only ones they planted. There are over 50 varieties – Casabas, Crenshaws, an heirloom Crane melon from Petaluma, and others. It was the orange flesh honeydew that sent my taste buds soaring.
Though sometimes I think many of us have romantic images of farming, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
Following George around his farm for an afternoon I was grateful to return to my computer for my “sit down” job.
On a typical summer Saturday, George is up at 3 a.m. and stocks their farm stand with fresh picked produce. By 7 a.m. he has the truck packed for the Farmer’s Market where he spends the morning until it’s time to go back home for more harvesting as well as keeping the employees busy with tasks.
His day will typically end about 7 p.m. When I asked George how he keeps up with it all, a smile flashes across his face like lightning in the sky. “I just love it,” he says shrugging his shoulders.
Fruit has always been SunSmile’s niche in the market. George’s Uncle Joel (Bierwagen) bought this property in 1939 as well as a larger farm in Chicago Park.
In those days he planted pears, plums, apples, and peach trees on the bottom land. A crew of 50 people worked the farm.
Sam Pello, now 80 years old, continues to help George. In the 1950s, when the pear blight hit, Uncle Joel sold the Chicago Park land and kept this farm off of Rough and Ready Highway.
George worked there every summer. When his uncle died in 1974, George and his grandmother were the only family members who made a commitment to keeping the farm going. Shortly after high school graduation, George hit the ground running (or digging as the case may be).
Though the season got a late start, their farm stand is now well stocked. The two to three year goal of SunSmile is to have a much larger U-pick operation so that people could come out during the summer season, not just for peaches and cherries, but also flowers, heirloom tomatoes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and vegetables. George also leases a portion of acreage to another local farmer and plans to do a CSA.
“This new wave of the local food movement is really beneficial to farmers and is definitely helping to increase sales. I think it’s important that people know where their food comes from. As we go forward with new county regulations about selling products, we need to be fair to all farm situations,” he commented.
SunSmile Farm is located two miles west of downtown Grass Valley at the end of West Drive, off of Rough & Ready Highway. The farm stand is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until November 9. They also sell at the Farmer’s Market at the fairgrounds on Saturdays.
Nutritionally speaking, watermelons contain lots of water and simple sugars which break down in the stomach very quickly – combining them with other complex foods causes fermentation. They make a great snack or first course. A plate of frozen watermelon squares is a refreshing treat on a hot day. Generally, melons are great doing nothing to them, but a glass bowl filled with a variety of melon pieces and a splash of Moscato or a sparkling wine easily transforms them into a light and festive dessert.
Honeydew Lime Sorbet
One half cup granulated sugar
One half cup water
Three cups honeydew melon puree
One quarter cup lime juice
Two tablespoons tequila (optional)
Two teaspoons finely grated lime rind
Pinch of salt
Slices of kiwi or lime for garnish
In a saucepan, combine sugar and water; bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let cool completely; refrigerate until cold.
Add pieces of melon to the blender or food processor until you have 3 cups puree. Add the lime juice, tequila, lime rind, salt and cold sugar syrup; puree. Pour mixture into an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not have one, pour mixture into a plastic container. Freeze until slushy, about 1 hour. Return the mixture to the blender or food processor and briefly puree again (this will help create a less grainy texture). Pour mixture back into container and freeze until firm.
Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly before serving. Scoop sorbet into sherbet glasses and garnish. Makes about 6 servings.
A seedless watermelon is a good choice for this, but a good food processor will puree the seeds if you don’t have one (and they’re good for you too). Rosewater is available in small bottles at most drug stores.
Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She is also the host of What’s Cookin’ on KVMR-FM. For questions or comments you can reach her at email@example.com
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