Melons are Amy Goldman's passion, and it shows in the title of her recent book, Melons for the Passionate Grower. She's been growing them for 30 years and was inspired to write her book to showcase how diverse - and delectable - melons can be. In her view, the hybrid supermarket muskmelon doesn't begin to do justice to this fruit. If you haven't tasted an heirloom melon, you're missing out. Goldman describes the 'Petit Gris de Rennes' variety as "so good it gives me the chills."
Seeds for some varieties of heirloom melons have been saved and passed down over the years because the plants were valued for their flavor, hardiness, scent, or other characteristics that made them stand out. Heirloom seed must be planted and grown out periodically and new seed collected in order to maintain viable seed for a variety. Unfortunately, many varieties are disappearing because no one is growing them. Goldman first read about endangered heirlooms in a cookbook and began immersing herself in the movement to preserve them, which is spearheaded by Kent Whealey, cofounder of Seed Savers Exchange. "Heirlooms were something of value from the past that I wanted to help hand down to the next generation," Goldman states.
Many of the melons profiled in her book are near extinction or have a limited seed supply. Goldman grows them and provides the seed to Seed Savers Exchange for distribution to gardeners around the world. Through her book Goldman hopes to impress a wider audience with the importance of preserving these heirloom gems. Her stories of gardeners who have kept old varieties in existence over the years, her descriptions of the melons and their origins, and the luscious photographs provide ample inspiration for gardeners to enlarge their melon patches.
Goldman is not a casual gardener. Before devoting her time to melons, she spent 10 years entering vegetables in competitions at numerous state, county, and regional fairs. This became a full-time hobby in summer months. "If there were 70 vegetable categories, I entered them all," she says. It took a tremendous amount of planning and effort to have everything reach the peak of perfection at the same time. "There was so much produce to transport that I drove a 20-foot U-Haul filled to the brim," she recalls. To keep her precious cargo from damage, she packed it in bubble wrap.
Such meticulous attention to detail obviously had benefits because Goldman won stacks of blue ribbons. At Philadelphia's 1998 Harvest show, she received the Virginia Brooke Pennypacker's Gardener's Sweepstakes Award. This prize goes to the gardener who receives the most blue ribbons in two or more horticultural classes. She had dozens of entries in Vegetables, Potted Plants, and Preserved Goods, and more blue ribbons than she can remember.
Goldman now grows 200 vegetable varieties in her two gardens in the Hudson Valley, NY area - one an acre in size, the other about 40 x 60. When she was preparing for her book, she planted the full acre in melons, and neighbors were the lucky beneficiaries of the harvest. "I did melon runs," she describes. "I'd line baskets with straw, fill them with melons, and load up my truck to deliver them." Goldman doesn't sell produce, but she does offer occasional taste testings at farmer's markets, garden clubs, and the nearby Culinary Institute of America.
"I want to introduce people to what they are missing so consumers will demand these varieties or gardeners will grow them." This year neighbors will be receiving free squash, as Goldman begins research for her next book. Asked which melon she'd choose if she could grow only one variety, Goldman can't answer. "I'd be bereft if I could only grow one," she explains. "They're old friends, and I have to have all my friends in the garden."
For more information on heirloom melons, visit Goldman's Web site at http://www.agoldthumb.com/.
Article published on September 13, 2004.