July 8th-10th 2019 – Fragrance of a Melon

New! Eliezer and Rose from Shorshei Zion are now offering a variety of spreads: walnut, almonds and unique natural chocolate.

The spreads consist of 100% walnuts, almonds and sprouted seeds, and homemade chocolate spread with no additives or preservatives.

The spreads are prepared at our factory in small quantities to ensure freshness and high quality. Order your packets of 200 gram via our order system.

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Our Melons, Ourselves

For some weeks now, you’ve been receiving sweet, aromatic, elliptic fruit in your boxes. So this week’s sweet summery newsletter is dedicated to the fruit that almost makes the summer heat worth it, or at the least provides a measure of comfort: the melon.

While we at Chubeza maintain the identity of veggie farmers working the land and growing vegetables, there was a moment or two when we considered planting a small fruit orchard. In the end, we decided to stick with those crops that grow close to the earth, and leave the fruit department to Helaf of Melo Hatene Orchards. And yet, we are very pleased to claim the glory of a couple of fruits that have become regulars in our summer boxes, because they grow calmly across the open field, not on a tree or bush. They are, of course, the melon and watermelon. We’ve already discussed the tough brother, Mr. Watermelon, so this time the melon rates the Newsletter spotlight.

The melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, a prominent summer clan whose relatives include the squash and pumpkin, cucumbers and fakus (and to all of you who still think we’re sending you two bags of squash, kindly take a second look at the recent fakus Newsletter). Though it pretends to be a cucumber, the fakus is really a melon harvested before it had time to ripen. Which is fortuitous indeed, for unlike his melons brothers, the fakus will not get sweeter as he ages. But the melons will! As they advance towards ripening, the sugar level in the fruit increases. At that point, they unfortunately become desirable not only to us, but also to the birds and mice, who are very good at detecting a ripe and juicy melon and fight to have their share.

We attempt to get the melons into the field as early as possible. Some are seeded; others are planted to gain more time and fewer weeds. We seeded and planted the first round of melons in February and a second round at the beginning of March and April. Since it was still winter, we protected them with plastic sheets from above so they would be warm and cozy and able to grow and thrive in their little hothouse under the plastic. The first melons were harvested and sent to you a few weeks ago. After them came more rounds, so we’ll extend the harvest of these sweeties for as long as possible.

At the beginning of the melon’s life, we cover its bed with a thin, white cloth called “agril,” allowing the plant to serenely grow, protecting it from viruses and other insect-borne diseases. Once the plant begins blossoming, we remove the white veil and allow the bashful bride to confront the outside world. Despite the many dangers, there is also the anticipated rendezvous with pollinating insects, without which we would have no pollination, fertilization or sweet fruit.

It takes the first melons slightly less than two months to begin winking at us from their beds in their roly-poly way. Several weeks later, they begin changing their colors, softening a little inside, filling up with sweet juice and becoming easily detached from their plant. Melons begin ripening some 30 days after they blossom, when the sugar levels and pH are on the rise. The sugars that make up the mass of the fruit are fructose, glucose and sucrose, accompanied by 90% water. We strive to harvest them at the prime of their ripeness, after their sugar level has reached its peak and they are sweet and juicy. Prematurely-picked melons will become juicier and softer in time, but they will not be as yummy and sweet. Melons have no reserve of carbohydrates. Actually, most of the carbs within them are sugars, not starch, which is why they have nothing to convert into sugar if they are harvested. What you pick is what there is.

And thus, over the years various methods to determine the ripeness of the fruit have been developed. Some ways are more scientific, such as the refractometer, a tool that measures the levels of sugar and NMRI (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging.) But we plain farmers simply bend down and inhale (mmm… it smells like a ripe fruit), take a close look (and the color has changed from green to yellow), caress it (press on the base of the fruit, where the flower once grew) and give it a little tug (if it comes off easily, great; if not, it needs some more time on the vine). We then carefully roll the melon to the long piles at the side of the bed. Later we stroll through with our wheelbarrow to collect the melons to the end of the bed, where we will place them into low boxes (they do not like being stacked in piles) and bring them to the packing house to savor their intoxicating scents.

As mentioned, we aren’t the only ones who crave the sweetness of this juicy friend, and every year we conduct a stubborn battle with the crows, who just love pecking and nibbling off our sweet melons. Which is why we cover them as soon as they ripen with a black bird net that is supposed to prevent the gluttonous birds from arriving at the prize before we do. This year, we have an additional competitor, or rather, a lot of them, from six feet under. The field mice have discovered the treasure, nibbled little holes in some of our melons and gobbled away their sweet insides. This is a new problem for us, which we’d avoided till now. Perhaps in the past, the birds of prey scared them away, but something went awry this year. For some reason, the birds of prey are not eating enough mice to prevent them from reaching our melons.

Fortunately, many farmers, specifically those who tend to barley fields, encounter an ongoing mice problem, which is why an ecological solution was found: mustering the barn owl for reinforcement. The barn owl is a night prey that feeds on rodents. In one night, it can gobble up 10 rodents, and a pair of barn owls can eat between 2,000-6,000 rodents a year. They love having offspring. A barn owl couple raises up to 13 chicks, and together, the big happy hungry family can definitely clean our field of mice and rats. In order for them to come live with us, we need to offer a solution for their living conditions and build Mrs. Owl a nesting crate, and… well, that’s it. By building these nesting crates, we tempt the young couples to the field. They’ve got lots to eat here, and we hope that next year (maybe even this year) we will no longer encounter the rodent problem. Read more about the barn owl as a biological form of pest control and how they cooperate with farmers in Israel here.

This year we grew five types of melons, most of them local Israeli-developed. Three of them are of the Ananas specie: one long, elliptical and juicy with a very prominent hometown heritage, developed from the local baladi melon that has grown in Israel for many, many years.

The local farmers termed it Shamam (melon in Arabic), or sometimes Batichi Aspar (yellow watermelon, named after its cousin). The three types we grow are “Raymond” – with light creamy flesh, “Hudson” and “Yaniv” – bright orange on the inside. Hudson and Raymond ripen early and are therefore suitable for the beginning of the season, while Yaniv ripens late and is thus appropriate for the middle and end of season. The first melons were already harvested and delivered to you several weeks ago. Of the later bloomers, some were seeded and planted as recently as May, and they are now beginning to ripen.

In addition, this year we planted the Galia melon as well, another veteran melon, round with green interior.

And this year we are trying out a brand new type of melon – the Pralina, round and orange-fleshed. She will introduce herself to you over the next few weeks.

Melon history begins in Africa, where there are still many wild varieties. It is unknown when, where and how they were cultivated, but somehow the farmers of an ancient era selected and saved the seeds of the sweetest melons. They were abundant in Egypt over 4000 years ago, and after many epochs travelled on commercial routes to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, South-Central Russia, China and Japan. Melons are depicted in ancient art, including a 2,400-year-old Egyptian burial drawing. In the Gilgamesh Epic written over 2000 years ago, Gilgamesh is mentioned eating aromatic melons. The fruit arrived to Europe sometime around the Greek and Roman period. The Moors brought them from North Africa to Spain during their reign there. Here in Israel, melon is mentioned in the Mishna under the name melafefon (cucumber)… Melons back then were very small compared to today’s varieties, probably about the size of an orange.

Different cultures feast on melons in different ways: in the Far East they are cooked and eaten like other cooked vegetables, but these are a different variety than the sweet melons we know. One of the Oriental types is the Chukiang melon, grown from Thailand to South China. This type of melon is pickled and preserved for months. In the Middle East, Central and South America and China, their dried seeds are eaten as a snack. In Mexico, a refreshing, melon cooler called agua fresca is a popular summer drink. In Japan, they make a different drink called midouri, a very sweet and heavy melon liqueur produced by soaking the melons in alcohol for a month (!). Even in our familiar way of eating the melon raw, there are many variations in seasoning: salt, pepper, powdered ginger or lemon juice.

Alchemists of the Middle Ages claimed that melon encourages blood circulation, and is suitable for soothing heated tempers. It is said to ease the pain of kidney stones and clear the way for their discharge. In Chinese medicine, melon is considered a cold food which influences the heart and stomach, encouraging urination, easing constipation, helping fight liver diseases, easing a cough, lowering body temperature and quenching thirst. It is highly recommended to eat melon separately, as its own little meal.

From a nutritional viewpoint, melon is rich in Vitamin C.  Half a melon contains 117 mg, almost twice the recommended daily consumption. It is also rich in Vitamin A and beta carotene, both of which are antioxidants that help protect the cells against harmful free radicals. In addition, half a melon contains 853 mg of potassium (almost double the amount of a banana), which is helpful in reducing blood pressure and easing muscle pain.

Wishing us all a sweet and bountiful week, thirst quenching, juicy and refreshing!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin, Yochai and the Chubeza team

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What’s in this week’s boxes?

Monday: corn/red bell peppers, Amoro pumpkin/Acorn squash, lettuce, melon/watermelon, cucumbers/fakus, tomatoes, green or yellow string beans/yard long beans, butternut squash/Napoli pumpkin, eggplants/onions, cherry tomatoes. Small boxes only: zucchini.

Large box also: New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, parsley, leek/garlic/scallions, potatoes.

Fruit box: watermelon, mango, plums. Small box: banana. Large box: cherry.

Wednesday: corn/red bell peppers, green or yellow string beans/yard long beans/okra/Acorn squash, melon, cucumbers/fakus, tomatoes, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, potatoes/onions, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard/lettuce, butternut squash/Napoli pumpkin, Amoro pumpkin.

Large box also: zucchini, parsley, leek/garlic/scallions.

Fruit box: watermelon, mango, grapes. Small box: banana. Large box: apricuts.