The Politics of Melon

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rich Sweetness 123 Melon
It's got nothing on the Politics of Dancing, but it sure does taste better!

It's that special time of year when the summer garden that you've carefully tended weekend in and weekend out begins to pay off here and there with some interesting surprises. As the wife that is Venus knows, I like to mix things up a bit from year to year. Why keep growing the same type of tomato, onion, carrot or any other vegetable for that matter, when there are so many interesting other possibilities?

Case in point? The photo directly to your right. I call it the "Fiona Ma" melon -- when in reality -- it's not. But the seeds did come from Fiona Ma, who represents the 12th Assembly District in the California State Assembly and is also a candidate for Board of Equalization, District 1. This is indeed a melon, but it's like no melon I've ever seen or tasted. And it's putting on a bright orange and yellow striped show in the Bird Back 40 this year.

CA Assemblymember Fiona Ma
The seeds for this unique melon actually come from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but Assemblymember Ma was promoting "agricultural sustainability" while giving away packets of this melon seed during a recent Democrat event attended by my left-leaning, Democrat brother.

What did my brother do with this particular gift? He gave it to his right-leaning, Republican brother who gardens, which just goes to show that "agricultural sustainability" doesn't exactly fall within rigid party lines. Besides, my brother wouldn't know what "agricultural sustainability" was unless it was bottled, packaged and sold on a shelf at Trader Joe's.

Pocket Sized Melons with a Punch
Baker Creek markets this little gem of a melon as the Rich Sweetness 123 melon. The online catalog description says: "Incredible little melons from the former Soviet Union. The fruit are a beautiful red, striped with golden yellow and weigh only about ¼ lb! The flesh is pure white and quite sweet. These have a very refreshing taste and are very fragrant. One of the best new varieties we’ve discovered in the last few years."

This little gem of a melon plus many others are putting on an August show to remember in the Bird Back 40. It is indeed fresh melon season in Northern California. And the seeds that the wife that is Venus and I carefully sowed last spring are now producing tasty melons in all shapes and sizes.

Sangria Watermelon
Not everything is a success in the melon patch, of course. What in gardening is? I am missing out on some of the larger, whopper sized watermelons that I planted earlier this year. But who needs whopper sized melons when the Sangria is popping watermelons in the shape of a small bowling pin?

And then there's that "mystery melon." What is it? I don't know! It's a "mystery." But it sure does taste good! Venus seems to think it's some sort of a crenshaw variety, but there's just one eensy-teensy problem with that. See, I don't remember planting crenshaw melon seeds. It might be a crenshaw! It might not! What I can tell you with all honesty is this: it's darn tasty.

"Mystery Melon"
I suppose it could also be a casaba melon. But there's just one eensy-teensy problem with that as well. See, I don't remember planting casaba melon seeds. Hmm....My memory is slipping (the wife is not surprised).

Combine this sudden richness of melon crops with fresh O'Henry peaches and table grapes that are putting on a bang-up show -- and you've got a fruit salad fit for any king or queen. And, try as I might, I never can really get tired of eating fruit procured from the numerous trees and vines sprouting in the backyard.

Melons, Grapes and Peaches: Oh My!
I don't know if I'm really promoting "agricultural sustainability" or not. I don't think of it in that way. I tend to simplify things a bit more. My way of thinking goes like this: I like melon. I plant melon. If someone wants to put a label of "agricultural sustainability" on Venus and I are doing -- that's fine I suppose.

Just as long as I get the fruit salad payoff. 

Onion Ring King and Queen of North Natomas!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Homer Bucket of Onions: Partial Harvest
It's about that time of year when the wife that is Venus and I play this little game of "let's make dinner." That is -- we will tell one another that we want to make a particular dish, but need to purchase things such as "tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, green onions, etc."

Of course -- this is our version of a ginormous joke -- since we have ginormous amounts of these things protruding from the summer garden beds. We've reached that Nirvana time of year when every carrot is at least a foot long and two inches thick, each tomato weighs at least a pound and is loaded with flavor and one green onion is larger than the bunches of five or six green onions sold at the local grocery store.

A Garden Whopper: The Candy Onion
In short? Gardening life is good. It's very good. Every meal features something fresh. And if it doesn't? Someone made a royally bad mistake. Even something a simple as a frozen pizza tastes better with extra toppings of chopped up bell peppers and green onions. And WHY are you eating frozen pizza when you can whip up a garden fresh soup featuring a hodge-podge of fresh this and that?

The frozen pizza can sit and wait in the freezer.

It is indeed harvest time on the Bird Ranch for Wayward Heirloom Tomatoes. The heirlooms are popping. The squash is prolific. Bell peppers make for a sweet and tasty treat. But one of the bigger successes just came out of the ground just last month: one of the largest and sweetest onion harvests we've ever had the pleasure of taking part it.

Bunches and Bunches of Candy Onions
No matter where you turn in the Bird GarageMahal, you're going to run into a Homer five gallon bucket of onions here -- or another five gallon bucket there. Or you just might run smack dab into onion monsters that are hanging and curing from an exposed set of rafters. Short and sweet? We got onions. Lots and lots of onions.

I would have to characterize this year's "onion experiment" with Dixondale Farms in (flat as a) Pancake, Texas a tremendous success. I have never grown onions this huge or this tasty before, and never before in the numbers that we experienced this year. Sure -- there were a few "duds in the bunch." But that's to be expected with just about anything when it comes to gardening (at least for yours truly). But as I began to pull mammoth whopper after mammoth whopper from the ground, I knew this was one of them rare experiments that had totally succeeded.

Onion Starters in February
Excuse me while I cry for a moment. This just doesn't happen often.

Unlike past years, when I would plants onion and garlic bulbs at about the same time of year (October), I waited to order my onion crop. It wouldn't arrive until early February. In the meantime, I educated myself on what I had done wrong in the past. I would come to discover that no onion is like the other. All of them are different. Some grow well in some areas. Others do not.

It was during this research that it dawned on me that purchasing that package of onion bulbs from my local nursery in September or October wasn't the wisest of decisions. Sometimes those packages contained onion bulbs that were not intended for, nor would grow to a large size, in the Sacramento Valley. Why would a nursery or Big Box store do that? Simple! It's the same question as, "why would they sell that Hass Avocado tree" when they know it will perish in our cold Sacramento climate?" Or, "why are they selling tomato plants in February when tomato planting season isn't for another two months?"

Red Candy Apple Onions
Simple! It's because people who don't know any better (see: Bill Bird) will happily fork over $20 for it. And if it dies? That's OK too! Because the people who sold you the wrong kind of onion bulbs or that avocado tree that kicked the bucket know all too well that you'll be back in another couple of months to fork over another $20 in a vain and wasted attempt to correct the problem.

It's called "marketing for dummies."

I finally got around to listening to the patient advice of a South Natomas vegetable gardener who has been at this game a little bit longer than I have, and gave into his suggestion of giving Dixondale Farms the old college try. After reading, and more importantly, understanding the different between "long-day, intermediate-day, short-day" and "Green Day" onions, I finally understood what I'd been doing wrong.

Green Day Onions. KIDDING!!! They're CANDY!
Note: To the uninitiated, there is no such thing as "Green Day" onions. If you ask for them at a nursery, you're likely to earn a howl of laughter or a blank stare. "Green Day" isn't an onion. "Green Day" is a rock-n-roll band.

Short and sweet? If you plant the right kind of onion bulb or onion start, fertilize, water and care for it properly, you will be rewarded with monster-sized onions. Monster sized onions mean monster sized onion rings -- made with a fresh beer batter.

Sure! You can use your onion crop for healthy things like salads and such! There's nothing wrong like that! But only I can tell you the wonderful taste behind taking a healthy thing like a freshly grown onion, dipping it into a batter and dropping it into a vat of hot oil!

Mix in rings procured from a home grown Super Star white onion, add in some beer, flour and salt, and you've got a meal fit for a King or Queen.

Simple Beer Batter Recipe

1 cup beer (the better the beer, the better the onion ring)
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Onion Rings in Waiting
Mix all items, minus the vegetable oil, together in a bowl until smooth. If the batter does not take on the consistency of a pancake batter, add more beer.

Cut off both ends of an onion (preferably home grown), and proceed to cut into slices anywhere from a half inch to an inch thick. Separate slices into individual rings.

Fill frying pan with raised edges with a half inch of oil and heat to medium-low. Proceed to dip each onion ring into the beer batter, using tongs to add directly to hot oil. Turn when edges turn light brown. Remove from heat when both sides are light brown and drain. Add additional salt, if needed, for taste, or a favorite dipping sauce!