Canary melon - the reason for the name seemed obvious. The softball size melon I spotted recently at the Sums River Farm stand in the Bellingham Farmers Market had a bright yellow skin. I'd never seen one before, so of course decided to buy it.
Since it seemed a little too firm and I had no idea how I was going to prepare it, I let it sit on my counter for awhile to see if it would ripen a little more. When the last greenish color had disappeared from the skin, I judged it to be ripe.
Canary melons, believed to have originated in Persia, are not commonly available to consumers. In the US, most are grown in the San Joaquin Valley in California. They are not considered easy to grow, since they are not particularly resistant to crop hazards such as mildew, disease, and even sunburn. (I'm guessing sunburned canary melons would be really rare in Whatcom County.) These frailties keep them from being a popular commercial crop.
They ripen in late fall, which likely makes them even more difficult to grow in our area. Late fall can be damp and cold, and most melon varieties need heat to ripen. They do like an acidic soil such as ours, though. In short, growing them is difficult enough that it was a real treat to find one here in November!
Once picked from the vines on which they grow, canary melons are considered to be good "keepers," meaning they can be store for several weeks before the quality begins to degrade. That certainly was my experience. I think I had the melon on my counter at room temperature for nearly a month before using it in the recipe below.
Canary melon has several other common names, including winter melon, Juan Canary melon and Spanish melon. Besides being yellow, the skin is smooth and may be slightly ribbed. The skin is fairly thin for a melon, and can be cut easily with a sharp knife.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I cut my melon in half. As it turned out, the flesh was a pale yellowish green color - just like the Brussels sprouts I decided to pair it with in my recipe. It was a little firmer than a cantaloupe, and was juicy but not so much that the juice ran out of it.
First thing I noticed after the color of the insides was the delightful fragrance - sweet but not cloying, a little floral and definitely reminiscent of cantaloupe. It was a delicate smell.
Cubing the melon was much like chopping an avocado. The skin is very thin so I couldn't handle it the same way as other melons. I first removed the seeds from each half with a spoon. Then I cut each half in two. From the inside, I cut first vertical, then horizontal, lines across each quarter that went almost to the skin. Finally I gently cut just inside and parallel to the skin to release the cubes. It was quick and easy.
At that point, I picked up a small piece to taste. The flavor of the raw melon was a little disappointing. "Bland" was the first word that came to mind, and it seemed to be both a little sweet as well as a little tart with almost an astringent quality to it.
I decided to combine the melon with Brussels sprouts for several reasons. For one thing, I had some sprouts on hand that I knew I needed to use soon. Also, bitter flavors such as that of Brussels sprouts often combine well with mildly sweet notes of fruit. It seems to tame the bitterness just enough.
It occurred to me that the strong flavor of the Brussels sprouts might overwhelm the mild flavor of the melon, but I went ahead with my plan anyway. Serendipitously, I had nothing to worry about.
I decided roasting was the cooking method of choice for this combination of the cubes of the melon along with halved Brussels sprouts. The flesh was firm enough that I thought perhaps the surface of the melon pieces would glaze and brown a little, much like pears.
What actually happened in the oven, though, was an unexpected pleasure. The cubes of melon transformed into a gel-like texture, and the melon's unusual and delicate flavor was amplified. Those small bits of nature's love turned out to be a perfect complement to the sturdy, slightly crisp texture and bitter flavor of the roasted Brussels sprouts.
I seasoned the dish with a little fresh thyme and salt, and dressed it with some apple cider vinegar, which also helps to balance the bitterness. Finally I sprinkled finely chopped hazelnuts over all. You could add a little grated cheese, too, if you like.
I'm about as happy with the results of this recipe as any I've published previously. I can't wait to get another canary melon so I can make it again!
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND MELON
1 pound Brussels sprouts (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
1 canary melon, peeled and cubed (Sumas River Farm, Everson)
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (Evergreen Station, Ferndale)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or to taste (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
Optional: finely grated Gouda cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Trim the stem end from each Brussels sprout. Peel off any outer leaves that look damaged and cut the sprout in half lengthwise (through the stem).
In a large bowl, mix Brussels sprouts, melon cubes, hazelnut oil, thyme leaves, and salt until the oil is well distributed.
Place on an oiled sheet pan and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until edges of Brussels sprouts are lightly browned.
Remove from oven, and put into serving bowl. Add chopped hazelnuts and apple cider vinegar. Top with a little finely grated Gouda cheese, if desired.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.