After an unusual hail storm that interrupted our warm late summer weather and left much of the town under water, I finally got up the courage to check on my garden. The foliage of the warm weather crops looked like it had been rifled with machine gun fire. Hail the size of macadamia nuts falling en masse had not only looked like a blizzard, but had perforated the outer layer of my zucchinis. The softer skinned tomatoes and bell peppers might as well as had small pox. The cantaloupe looked good from the top, but were sitting in very muddy mud. Welcome to the new high desert swamp.
One thing that was handy was that I could actually see all of my ripe, and over ripe, cantaloupe. Picking them went quickly. There were a few left on the vines that I had some hope would ripen, especially the two that hung from a portion of vine that had climbed the neighboring pepper cages. It had always seemed like it would be a lot of work to grow cantaloupe on a trellis, but it looked like “bottom rot” might be a lot less of a problem. I may have to seriously consider this for next year. If you see my buying pantyhose, that will be why.
The chickens loved the over ripe melons. They were slurping down the juicy mouthfuls like men drinking beer; so much joy and abandon! That still left several ripe cantaloupe for me. I knew I had to move fast. They were not going to hold for long, even in the refrigerator. But I would get a belly ache eating that much in the next 24 hours. I vaguely recalled reading something about melons being “poor” for dehydrating, but decided to look into it again.
Out of the 7 – 8 books that I have about preserving food, the only one that came close to mentioning cantaloupe was the one that came with the dehydrator. That was where I had read about melons being “poor” to dehydrate. However, I hadn’t remembered what was said underneath the heading. They said that meant it was difficult to get it to turn out, not that it didn’t taste good if it worked. Then, I did some internet research and found one website that talked about dehydrating cantaloupe in a positive way. ¼ inch slices slices it would be.
It didn’t seem like so many cantaloupe until I started cutting them up. I discovered that I think the removal of the melon rind is quite tedious. I really had to force myself to keep coming back to the job. I wondered if it was worse because of the cute little size of my cantaloupe. (from Territorial Seed Company, the Minnesota Midget) They are a great, one-serving size for fresh eating, which means scooping right out of the garden-grown bowl. Cutting all those tight curves, only to end up with thin quarters to slice little pieces of was not so fun. By the time I got to spooning out the seeds, I was impatient and they kept hitting me in the face.
I was having a hard time judging ripeness from the outside of the melon. It seemed that each cantaloupe had a different combo netting and color scheme. Another bucket filled up for the chickens, drunk though they might already be. I ended up with a measly 3.5 dehydrator trays to dry. I sprinkled them with a bit of sea salt. I was too tired to come up with something else to fill up the machine with, so just turned it on to the recommended 135°F and went on my way.
Right before bed, I remembered to check them. Low and behold, they were perfect. Very dry, but just a bit leathery still. Let’s see, that was about 8 – 9 hours. After turning off the the dehydrator, I simply left them there to cool and went to bed. I wasn’t interested in trying a piece right then.
In the morning, half pint jars seemed like the best choice. It would feel like I was filling more jars, plus the smaller vacuum sealed portions would tend to stay fresher. As I set myself up to peel them off of the dehydrator trays and plunk them in the jars, I finally tasted one. Then, I ate another and another. These had turned out very yummy! I think I like them more than fresh cantaloupe, but I am also put off by messy food. They tasted somewhat sweeter than fresh cantaloupe, but without any strong flavor otherwise.
I texted my mom to come over and taste them! She liked them. Some of the pieces of dry cantaloupe that the kids tried were a little too salty, so maybe I need to hold back on the salt some next time. But, I am inspired for there to be a next time. I will have my eyes open for a larger short season cantaloupe to grow next year and keep an eye open for sales on pantyhose.