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Bring On the Melons

May 30, 1996|RUSS PARSONS

Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the transition from spring to summer in the produce section. Out go the strawberries, in come peaches and nectarines.

Leading the way this year is the melon crop. Thanks to an unusually warm spring in the Imperial Valley and across the river in Arizona (warm in those spots means hotter than 100 degrees), the summer melon crop got off to an even earlier start than normal. Supplies are good and prices should be moderate. Best of all, quality should be high since all that heat drives the sugars up.

Need a refresher course on how to pick a melon? First, follow your nose. When melons are at their best, you should be able to smell them almost from the next aisle. Failing that, sniff the blossom end. Riper melons will have a honeyed, spicy smell.

Thumping works for watermelons (which won't really be at their peak until closer to the Fourth of July), but not so much for the other melons. Color is a better indicator. A really ripe cantaloupe has a golden tinge to the rind. Honeydews should too, plus the best will have some brown speckling.

We're also starting to see the first early varieties of nectarines and peaches in the markets. Quality so far has been fairly good, though quantities are limited. Early varieties of both fruits were especially hard hit by the warm winter and rainy weather during pollination. You'll probably have to wait until supplies increase later in the month to get good buys.

You won't have that option with apricots. There's probably no way around the fact that this is going to be an extremely tight year--the second in a row. Since they'll be at a premium, your best bet is to hit the farmers markets in another couple of weeks and look for royal or Blenheim apricots--they're actually the same thing and they're the king of 'cots.

It looks like it will be almost as bad for plums. Reports have good flavor but very small size on the early varieties. The best fruit will come later in the month, when they start picking the Santa Rosas.

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