Ricky Brown of Back River Farm in Loganville has a field full of Athena cantaloupe. It’s a variety he’s been growing for several years after hearing it highly recommended by his county extension agent, as well as other farmers. “It grows well for me and it’s one of the sweetest.”
Brown sells his melons and other produce on the farm, to his community-supported agriculture customers or through LocallyGrown.net. He’s a Certified Naturally Grown farmer with 5 acres of fields planted in potatoes, summer squash, sweet corn, bell peppers, watermelon, beans, field peas and all that cantaloupe.
This year, he put in 300 cantaloupe plants. “You never know how many melons you’ll get off a plant. You might not get one. You might get two.”
Most years, he succession plants so he’ll have melons to harvest over a longer period of time. Each planting should offer melons for harvest over a three-week period.
Brown’s fields are irrigated, which means this summer’s dry weather hasn’t been as much of a problem as it could be. But he’s also learned in his years of growing melons to cut back on the water as the melons start to mature. “They won’t be as sweet if they get too much water,” he said.
A critical skill in growing melon is knowing when to harvest. “You have to look at the stems,” Brown said. “When they start to get dry, it’s time to get ready to harvest. When you’re buying melons at the store, you want to smell the blossom end. If it’s fragrant, it will be a good melon.”
Brown enjoys his melons almost as much as his customers. “I treat myself to a cantaloupe every day during the season,” he said. “I don’t do that with everything I grow, but definitely with cantaloupe.”
Cantaloupe and Ginger Granita
Granita, or Italian ice, is an easy frozen treat to make. Executive chef Walker Brown of Inman Park’s Wisteria Restaurant was inspired to create this granita to take advantage of summer’s field-ripened cantaloupes. Blending cantaloupe and ginger with just a hint of ground clove is an inspired combination. Brown says the granita is good on its own but even more delicious when drizzled with good rum or cold sake.
2 cups water
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 cups 1-inch cubed ripe cantaloupe
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Pinch ground cloves
Make simple syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
In the jar of a blender, combine cantaloupe, ginger, lemon juice and cloves. Puree, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in cooled simple syrup. Pour mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and freeze mixture overnight. When ready to serve, use an ice cream scoop or other metal spoon to scrape the granita into balls. Serve immediately. Makes: 6 cups
Per 1/2-cup serving: 105 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 5 milligrams sodium.