A Toast to Minnesota’s Heritage Melon, Recipe Included

It’s been a great summer for Minnesota Midget melons, a small cantaloupe-type melon that grows very well in the North. I’ve got three Minnesota Midget melon plants, all growing in containers and all doing great.  So great, in fact, that I’ve been looking for ways to use them, including the cooler recipe you’ll find at the end of the post.


cantaloupe cut in half
Minnesota Midget melons are small but tasty and grow really well in northern climates.

Minnesota Midget was developed at the University of Minnesota and introduced right after World War II.  I can’t help but wonder if the melon was developed in part to encourage owners of smaller properties to plant Victory Gardens. While researching the vegetable chapter of The Northern Gardener: From Apples to Zinnias, I read several pamphlets from the U on growing vegetables in very small spaces: they called them “rug gardens,” because you could grow a lot of food in a 9-by-12 space. But that’s another story.

Minnesota Midget melons grow on relatively short vines—mine are about 3 to 4 feet long, though the longest vine may be 5 feet. They flower profusely, and then set fruit. Each of the vines I have has 4 to 8 melons on it, varying from the size of a softball to just-a-bit smaller than a grocery store cantaloupe. When they are ripe, they separate easily from the vine. You should try to harvest before they fall off the vine, so right now I’m doing daily inspections to remove any melons that are getting ripe.

This year, they have not been hard to grow at all! I started the seeds indoors and set them in their containers in early June. The vines took off. Like all melons, they like sun and a relatively rich, well-drained soil.  Because they are in containers, I’ve been checking to make sure the melons are all supported well. I had to sacrifice a pair of pantyhose to rig up supports for a couple of them.

A Melon Cooler

icy drink in garden
Enjoy a refreshing melon cooler in the garden.

This recipe is a modification of one I found in Amy Thielen’s The New Midwestern Table, which is a fantastic cookbook full of good stories and delicious recipes.

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

3 limes, zested and the juice

Ginger root, a piece the size of your thumb

1 or more Minnesota Midget melons (or other cantaloupe)

Ice, fizzy water for serving

Put the sugar and water in a pot and bring it to a boil to dissolve the sugar into the water. While it’s heating up, remove the zest from the three limes (I peeled it off with a vegetable peeler) and peel and slice the ginger. When the water is heated, take it off the heat and put the ginger pieces and lime zest in to soak. Let the water cool.

When the water is room temp, juice the lime, and seed and remove the flesh from your melon. Put the sugar syrup (with the ginger and lime pieces), the lime juice and the melon flesh in a blender. Give it a whirl until it’s smooth. You may want to strain the resulting mixture through a sieve.

To serve it, put about 1/3 cup of the melon mixture in a tall glass with ice and top it off with fizzy water. I’m not a hard-liquor person, but if I were . . .

This recipe is not set in stone: Make it more or less sweet depending on your taste, add more lime, more melon, more ginger, depending on what you like and what you have on hand. Add some mint leaves to the infusion or anything else that strikes your fancy.

My melon was small so I added a bit more flesh from another melon to give the drink enough melon taste. Feel free to adjust and enjoy!



Why I Love Farmers’ Markets

Logan Square market
The vegetables were piled high at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market.

My daughters grew up going to the Northfield Farmers’ Market. It was a highlight of many Friday mornings and often involved a bike ride, our baskets filled with vegetables on the way home and a treat from Martha’s Eats and Treats. So, it was no surprise when my eldest, now a Chicago-based editor, said, “I want you and Dad to come to my farmers’ market when you visit.”

Kale burgers, anyone?

So on the Sunday before Labor Day, we ventured out on the Blue Line to Logan Square and her farmers’ market.

Here’s the great thing about farmers’ markets: Each one is unique to its neighborhood and customers, and at the same time, they all have the same comfortable, welcoming feeling.  The Northfield farmers’ markets (we really have two) don’t feature kale burgers or a wide array of flavored tofus and sauces to sample, and I don’t think any of the jam purveyors here would charge $9 a jar, but both the very hip, very urban Logan Square market and our decidedly small-town markets are relaxed and cheerful. They both have farmers eager to show you what they’ve grown and artisans proud of the food they’ve made whether it’s a ruggedly shaped loaf of bread, an apple butter made of apples and apples only (we bought three jars) or those aforementioned tofu squares. The vendors come farther to go to the Logan market — many from Michigan and Indiana — but they bring with them the same enthusiasm for beautifully displayed beets, bunches of kale, buckets of tomatoes and sharing what they’ve grown.

Farmers’ markets are also wonderful places for socializing and connecting with your community. In Northfield, I know several of the vendors and almost always meet a friend or acquaintance at the market. At Logan, my husband and I sat on a park bench while our daughter finished her weekly produce shopping and struck up a conversation with a young mother, who grew up nearby. It turns out she attended the University of Minnesota and had even visited one of the colleges in Northfield — “That was too rural for me,” she said.

Tiny guitarist performs.

The people watching can’t be beat either. In Northfield, we have regular musicians at both the Friday and Saturday markets, and while they might be a tad more musically proficient than this little solo performer at Logan, they take the same joy sharing their talents. Farmers’ markets are places filled with dogs (labs in Northfield, pugs in Logan) and kids (more kids in Northfield, more dogs in Logan). They’re places to wander on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, to visit with folks you’ve just met and those you’re known for decades.

They’re nourishing places, and not just because of the kale.


Three Great Garden Design Ideas

Despite heat and humidity Saturday and intermittent storms Sunday, attendance at the Northfield Garden Tour was high this past weekend. I managed to visit four of the six gardens on the tour and came away with three great ideas for my own gardens.

vegetable garden
Vegetables and flowers blend well in this formal garden.

Mixing vegetables and flowers. Vegetables can be attractive, so why stick the vegetable garden in the back of the yard? Most of the gardens I visited had vegetable beds that were part of the main garden or the gardeners used flowers to enhance their vegetable gardens. (Worth noting: all four of the gardens I toured had vegetables as well as ornamental plants.) This garden-in-progress used raised beds for vegetables in an area with mostly ornamental plants.

Structure, structure, structure. Like the adage about real estate (location, location, location), inviting gardens must have structure. Whether provided by fencing, rocks, stone walkways, or charming wood structures, such as this seat with an arbor covered with wisteria, structure gives the eye a place to rest and enhances the plantings around it. All of the gardens had artists in them and several of the artists created pieces in ceramic or iron that would provide another focal point in a garden.

Garden seating with flowers
Something structural in the garden gives the eye a place to rest — and the gardener, too.
Orange daylilies
Orange daylilies brighten every garden.

The power of orange. Ever since I heard Eric Johnson’s discussion of orange at the Northfield Public Library this spring, I’ve been contemplating orange and its effect in the garden. Every garden I visited Sunday had orange flowers somewhere and the orange brightened up everything around it. I have some orange nasturtiums I am growing this year and now that they have started to bloom, I can see how attractive and lively orange is in a container garden.

One of the best things about garden tours is talking with the gardeners and getting new ideas. I have several more tours I’m scheduled to take in July, and I expect to learn something new from each of them.

More Proof of the Boom in Food Gardening

I was in Menards the other day buying some gear to start seeds indoors when the helpful guy in the light department told me they were out of the kind of light I was looking for and it would not be in stock for another week.  It seems more folks are starting vegetables from seed, he noted. Now we have hard evidence of that observation. The National Gardening Association yesterday unveiled its survey on gardening intentions for 2009, and it’s no surprise that more folks are planning vegetable gardens for this summer. Here are the relevant stats:

  • 43 million U.S. households say they plan to grow vegetables and fruits in 2009, compared to 36 million in 2008. That’s a 19 percent increase in a single year.
  • Of those households that already do some food gardening, 11 percent said they plan to increase the amount and variety of things they grow. In addition, 10 percent said they will spend more time on their food gardens.
  • These increases are on top of a 10 percent increase in food gardening between 2007 and 2008.
purple cabbage
Vegetable gardens are on the rise.

Why are more people growing fruits and veggies? The desire to save money in a struggling economy is a big reason (54 percent), but the quality and safety of home-grown food are just as important, the survey found. (The top reason — 58 percent — said it tastes better.) I also think that in difficult times people like to do something to control their own fate. Growing your own healthy, delicious food is the ultimate act of independence. At the same time, gardening leads to a greater connection to the land you live on and the people around you. Let’s grow!