Each season has its scents. The intoxicating aroma of pea blossom, whose power belies the fragility of its petals, heralds the arrival of spring. Just as reliably, the odor of ripe melons signals the waning of summer. Musky, sugary, with a hint of fermentation, the matronly perfume reminds us to seize the days as they grow shorter.
At the Wednesday farmers market, Dawn Birch, of Flora Bella farms, was brimming with pride over the fruits of her largest melon planting ever.
“Our water source is snowmelt off the Sierra Nevadas rather than underground well water, which can be tainted,” she said. “They say the Sierra snowpack is the cleanest water left on the planet.”
Birch’s land has been organic since she and her husband, James, started farming it 30 years ago, and she attributes the taste of her product to the purity of the terroir.
“I’ve been told by eight people and one chef it’s the best watermelon they’ve ever tasted,” she said.
Birch also has excellent cantaloupes.
“It’s a Tuscan melon, and the texture is really lovely.”
Greg Nauta of Rocky Canyon Farms said his melons have a few too many fans this year, namely deer and gophers. The critters are spoiled for choice.
“Our main melon is the Ambrosia cantaloupe,” he said. “It has an awesome smell to it, great flavor, super sweet. It’s a softer melon. We do the Crenshaw, which is a larger melon but it’s a deep, rich flavor, and the Charlyn, which we call tropical; it’s not quite a honeydew.”
Nauta is saving for a fence to keep out the thieving hordes, so you may want to buy one of each.
Francisco Gemez of Munak Ranch sells adorable Ananas melons the size of baseballs. Ananas is French for pineapple, but this fruit has a rich caramel note. Gemez said he has more varieties ripening up near Paso Robles, which he’ll bring to market in the coming weeks.
In Southern California summer lingers through September, after the tourists have gone, school has started and the sun’s angle sharpens. Its drawn out good-bye feels at once generous and cruel, and the aroma of melons, sweet and decaying, reminds us it can’t last forever.
Then pumpkin spice takes over everything.
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.