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IN SEASON

A Host of Melons

August 24, 1995|RUSS PARSONS

So many melons, so little time.

After a slow start caused by spring rains, the San Joaquin melon harvest got a push from the recent run of scorching temperatures. As a result, stores are full of melons that ripened at the same time.

The season, which usually begins around the first of July, didn't really pick up until mid-month.

"Now we've got all these melons bunched up because of the heat," says Gil Vasquez Jr., a salesman at Fordel Inc., a melon grower-shipper in Mendota. "The heat really turned on, so everything got pushed forward. Now we've got all these fields coming off at once and overlapping, and everybody has fruit."

But, he warns, these gluts rarely last long.

"At some point, you're going to see this deal crash," Vasquez says. "You can only go so long with everything bunched up. Normally there's a gradual decline in supply, but the way it is now, there's going to be a cliff."

The end may come as soon as Labor Day, he says, noting that temperatures on the San Joaquin Valley's West Side have already fallen to the unseasonably cool mid-90s for several days straight.

With so many melons on the market, how do you choose? Here are some tips from "Produce Pete's 'Farmacopeia' " (Hearst Books; $16.95), an opinionated guide to fruits and vegetables by New Jersey grocer Pete Napolitano.

* Cantaloupe: Choose by the golden color of the rind and a sweet fragrance. They ripen at room temperature.

* Honeydew: Pick a melon with a golden tone and one that is sticky on the outside. Look for brown freckling. "That's where it's tacky with sugar," Napolitano writes.

* Crenshaw: Look for a golden bronze skin color. Crenshaws ripen off the vine, so you can pick one that is just beginning to break yellow and leave it at room temperature until the speckling on the rind turns color.

* Persian Melon: Look for a golden beige cast to the rind and, most important, a powerful flowery smell.

* Sharlyn Melon: Again, look for a golden color and sweet fragrance.

An opinionated guy, Napolitano also has two melons to avoid: the Canary ("It's hard to find a good one") and the Casaba ("When it's good, it's pretty good, but when it's bad, it's horrid").

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