Monday, 10 August 2020

Local Melon at the Market

Charentais melon from Haut-Poitou.
Charentais melon from Haut-Poitou. Indre et Loire. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

After the rains of May and June the IGP melons of Haut-Poitou (certified geographical protected) were attacked by bacteria. The few melons that survived to be worth eating were expensive, around €3.50 each. But now the weather has improved the producers say we will enjoy exceptional melons in August. 

 My friend Christiane buys garlic from our local melon and onion producer.
Buying garlic at the market. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Haut-Poitou, between Chatellerault and Limoges, with its cool nights and sunny days is the ideal place to grow the cantaloupe type melons (rockmelons) known as Charentais. The particular cultivars are carefully chosen for salmon orange colour, juicy firmness and melon aromas. It takes 90 days from planting to harvest and the fruit must have reached a minimum level of sugar (12 grams per 100 grams). Just twelve producers are allowed to call themselves 'Melon Masters' and can label their melons as certified from the Haut Poitou. The certification requires that the melon producers adhere to a strict set of criteria in their farming practices, in order to ensure the quality of the product sent to market. The twelve farms cultivate 1180 hectares with melons and employ 1200 workers, most of them seasonal.

 Locally grown small Charentais melons at the market in Preuilly.
Charentais melons at the market. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The price goes up and down depending on the quality and quantity of melons. The demand is always there but some years the weather doesn't cooperate, making good melons a rarity on the market. These specialist melon growers take the view that it is better to maintain quality and not try to sell inferior melons, so the price will go up when the melons are in short supply.  When there are shortages, it is always as a result of unfavourable weather. The producers aim for about two and a half tonnes of melon each per year. 

 The melon producer's stall at the market in Preuilly.
Melon producer's stall at the market. Indre et Loire. france. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Planting is done directly into the chalky clay soil, under polytunnels, and can be done at regular scheduled intervals from April to June. The soil absorbs a lot of water in the winter and releases it slowly to the melon plants and fruit during the summer. But after planting the progress of the melons is entirely weather dependent. This year started well, but in May and June there was steady light rain and the polytunnels were kept closed to protect the melon plants from excess humidity. Unfortunately the side effect of this was excessive lush leafy growth. A bacterial blight appeared, leaving small spots on the melons. Once the polytunnels were opened up and the plants exposed to the sun the disease accelerated and pollination was disrupted. Producers lost 60 - 80% of the early crop, but the remaining melons were good quality.

 The best known of the local melon producers selling direct to the public in Séligny,
 late July last year.
Melon producer selling at the market. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Now the season has settled down to steady sun the late harvest should be both plentiful and perfect. Peak melon season for Haut Poitou is the beginning of July to the end of September. 

 I'm sure this roundabout on the outskirts of Richelieu is referencing melons.
Melon slices sculpture on a roundabout, Richelieu. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

All the producers must grow other crops because one of the rules of the IGP certification is that melons may not be grown on the same soil more frequently than every six years, to prevent disease build up. The fruit is harvested early in the morning, kept cool and are with the consumer within 48 hours.

Melons marked for me by the producer to indicate ripeness 
and the order in which we should eat them.
Melons marked to indicate ripeness. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

One of the producers, from near Richelieu, comes to the markets in Preuilly and Loches during the season. He hasn't been for the last couple of weeks and I was disappointed. But last Thursday he reappeared and explained he just didn't have any melons the previous two weeks. This time he had small but really good melons -- Simon thinks they might be the best melon he's ever had. I like them because they are a nice two person size. They are priced at €5 for three melons. I just cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and serve in a bowl with a spoon. No additions necessary. He also grows excellent onions and garlic, and says it has been a very good trouble free year for them. 


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potty said...

For your 'half each' do you cut on the equator or down a line of longitude? I really miss our local producer that was just down the road - with the wonky handmade seasonal sign. Back in the UK the melon ripeness is never predictable.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Seeing if I can comment here. Interesting that we both posted about melons today.

Susan said...

I know. And weird that I can't comment on your blog all of a sudden.

Colin and Elizabeth said...

You could be right about the roundabout but to us it will always be "The Chocolate Orange" roundabout... Which was totally lost on the french as you didn't ever see them on sale in France...

Ken Broadhurst said...

What in the world is a chocolate orange?

Susan said...

It's a confectionary that is ball shaped and divided into segments like an orange. The segments are an orange flavoured gel coated in chocolate. Don't worry -- only Brits know about them. Often given as Christmas presents. I don't think I've ever tasted one, and possibly never seen one for real. They are made by Terrys, one of the famous Yorkshire Quaker chocolate manufacturers. Now probably owned by some multinational.

Susan said...

Longitude. Melon ripeness in Australia is a lottery too.

Carolyn said...

Terry's chocolate oranges are available in the US. There's also a raspberry-flavored one. Since reading the comments, I fell down a rabbit hole, looking up Yorkshire Quakers in the confectionery business. I came across this: " Quakers, a religious group who favoured the cocoa industry because it offered workers an alternative to strong drink...." I happen to think hot chocolate is a strong drink, at least the way I make it. Okay, now back to Charentais melons.

Susan said...

Glad to have kept you happily occupied for the day LOL.

Autolycus said...

The tiniest bit of ginger adds a bit of zing to a melon, I find.

Susan said...

Yes, ginger is a good combo with melon.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Fresh ginger or powdered ginger?

Susan said...

For melon I'd go powdered.

Simon said...

For Australian rock melons (basically the same thing but without much flavour) powdered ginger and brown sugar is just about mandatory.

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