June 15th-17th 2020 – One in a Melon…

To sweeten these hot days, it’s time for a super Barhi date sale:

For the next few weeks, enjoy absolutely delectable Barhi dates at 5 kg for just 130 NIS (reduced from 150 NIS)!

The amazing Barhi is small, sweet and ever so soft. Its caramel-like flavor inspired the growers at Kibbutz Samar to term it “Nature’s toffee.” Perfect for a healthy pick-me-up, fruit shakes, baking and of course – as is.

Bon appetite! Be healthy!

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And in the spirit of seasonal renewal – the Iza Pziza dairy has added a new cheese to its outstanding assortment: Sigal Wine-Soaked Cheese, a half-hard young Pecorino-style cheese soaked in red wine and vacuum packed (26% fat).

Price: 33.50 NIS per 150 grams

Bon Appetite!

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 When summer gives you melons…

This week’s sweet summery newsletter is dedicated to the sweet, round fruit now arriving in your boxes that almost makes the summer heat worth suffering (or at least provides welcome 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. But sweetness isn’t exclusive to just the fruit of trees. Which is why we are very pleased to claim the glory of several fruits, now regulars in our summer boxes, that grow calmly across the open field, not on a tree or bush. Kudos to the melon and watermelon!

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 act as a cucumber substitute, the fakus is really a melon harvested before it had time to ripen. Which is fortuitous indeed, for unlike his melon 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, juicy melon and fight for their share (more about this to come).

We attempt to place the melons into the earth 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 the beginning to mid-February and a second round at the start of March, April and May. Since it was still winter at the very beginning, we protected the melons 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 next rounds, in warmer weather, were planted out in the open. We seed and plant them in several rounds so as to 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 giving us a roly-poly wink from their beds. Some 2-3 months after being inserted into the soil, they begin changing their colors, softening a bit inside, filling up with sweet juice and becoming easily detached from their plant. Melons begin ripening around 30 days after they blossom, when the sugar levels and pH are on the rise. The sugars that comprise 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 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), feel 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.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, we aren’t the only ones who crave the sweetness of this juicy friend. Every year we conduct a stubborn battle with the crows who thrive on pecking and nibbling off our sweet melons. Which is why we cover the fruit as soon as they ripen with a black bird-net meant to prevent the gluttonous birds from reaching the prize before we do. This year, we are attempting double protection: from the bottom with nets, and from the top with…. a bird scarecrow. Basically, it is a kite shaped like a big vulture, fastened on a flexible 6-meter telescopic pole. This kite soars with even the gentlest breeze, flying in a manner that imitates the flight of birds of prey. Its random, varying aviation patterns prevent the harmful birds from getting accustomed to it. Which is why they continue to keep their distance: It looks too close to the real vulture (even fools us sometimes…) Don’t take our words for it, go ahead and judge for yourselves. Here it is:

This year we grew four types of melons, most of them local Israeli-developed. Three are of the Ananas specie – long, elliptical and juicy with a very prominent hometown heritage, developed from the local baladi melon that has grown in Israel for 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 Hudson, Justin and Donna.

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

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 over 2000-year-old Gilgamesh Epic, Gilgamesh is mentioned eating aromatic melons. The fruit arrived in 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, but these are a different variety than the sweet melons we know. 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 (fresh water) 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 both slow and heated tempers. It is said to ease the pain of kidney stones and cleanse the skin. 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 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), 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 over 800 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 and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S SUMMER BOXES?

Monday: Zucchini, potatoes, melon/corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, Amoro pumpkin, slice of pumpkin/butternut squash/acorn squash, parsley/coriander, lettuce, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard. Small boxes only: leeks/garlic/onions.

Large box, in addition: Beets, eggplant/fakus, cherry tomatoes, yellow string beans

FRUIT BOXES: Peaches, bananas, cherries. Large box, in addition: Avocado/apples

Wednesday: Zucchini, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, yellow string beans/long sweet peppers, parsley/coriander, lettuce, Butternut squash/slice of Napoli squash/Amoro pumpkin, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, melon/watermelon. Small boxes: cherry tomatoes

Large box, in addition: Fakus/eggplant, garlic/onions/scallions, beets, Acorn squash.

FRUIT BOXES: Nectarines, bananas, apples. Small boxes: cherries. Large box, in addition: Peaches