This time of year we’re all mad about melons. In Nevada, the fruit is at its peak harvest right now. While farmers markets and produce aisles are packed with Casabas, honeydews and Crenshaws, here in Nevada, the Heart of Gold steals the show. The melon is an heirloom in the cantaloupe family, and one Nevada town even holds a festival in its honor. More on that later, but first, some history.
The cantaloupe was named after the town of Cantalupo, near Tivoli, Italy, a summer residence of the Pope. It’s thought that the melons originated in India and the Middle East. Christopher Columbus brought the first cantaloupe seeds to America on his second voyage in 1494.
Roland Morill, a Michigan farmer developed the Heart of Gold variety when he crossed the Osage melon with the Netted Gem melon in 1890. He was granted a trademark for it in 1914.
Homesteaders planted cantaloupes in the early 1900s and according to the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority, O.J. Vannoy was first to grow the Heart of Gold in the Fallon area. They became abundant in the 20s and 30s.
Rick Lattin of Lattin Family Farms is quite familiar with the history of the Hearts of Gold. His family started growing the melons in the 50s. He says the area’s higher altitude gives Nevada-grown Heart of Gold melons better flavor. His farm is one of just 12 Nevada family farms growing the crop today. While loved for their sweet juicy flavor, the fruit has a shelf life of just a few days, so shipping is difficult. As new varieties of hybrid cantaloupes have developed, the demand for the Heart of Gold has faded. Hybrid varieties have a longer shelf life and still retain a sweet, juicy flavor.
While still a “boutique” crop, Heart of Gold melons are seeing a resurgence in popularity. The local food movement may be a big reason as organizations such as NevadaGrown work to educate people on where their food comes from, and eating seasonally and locally. You can also grow your own, as seeds are readily available.
This month you’ll find Heart of Gold melons showing up at your local farmers markets. Be sure to take one home. You can enjoy the tasty fruit just as it is, or wrapped with prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic vinegar or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can find more ideas in the NevadaGrown cookbook NevadaGrown: A Year in Local Food.
And back to that festival. The Fallon Cantaloupe Festival takes place over the Labor Day weekend. The event celebrates the areas rich agriculture and history. Find out more at http://www.falloncantaloupefestival.com/.