full soft shift into fall

IMG_4074IMG_5340IMG_4068IMG_4070Achingly gorgeous moment in the year, the arch of the back of the season, where we slip from the fullness of late summer into fall.  The faintest whiff of mildew and fire in the dawn, the tired air refreshed by rain, the thirsty ground and the changing waves, spiders hanging big in their webs, big shelves of chicken-of-the-woods, overripe tomatoes, piles of juicy peppers, sweet taut winter squash curing and waiting in the wings, and still an abundance of melons.  It’s hard not to be in love with you, Oregon, when you provide us with so many delicious yeses.

IMG_5352IMG_4072I’ve been so surprised lately by people who would rather eat piles of subpar grocery store fruit than a single, musky, almost obscene ripe melon just hours off the vine.  To me, it’s not worth all the change in China to give up that pleasure.

IMG_5339 IMG_4073Images of fields are Open Oak Farm/Adaptive Seeds; other images taken at the Lane County Farmers Market — chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms are The Gourd Patch; all heirloom melon shots except one are McKenzie River Farm; the Collective Farm Woman melons are Turnip the Beet Farm, new tiny farm specializing in rare varieties.

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cool as a melon cucumber soup

IMG_5304I’m really into cold soups this summer.  It’s like mainlining vegetables.  And my latest love, kvass (yes, yes, a recipe soon forthcoming, I promise), is making them all the better.  Kvass, a fermented drink made from bread, beets, or fruits, sours up a sweet soup and gives it depth.

This melon-cucumber soup, when done with a meltingly ripe melon from Eastern Oregon, will be too sweet, so you need the balancing agents: kvass, cucumber, green pepper, salt.  Be careful with your garden cucumbers — they can be bitter in this hot, dry weather.  Taste each one before using.

Shiso is an herb everyone should grow, both the green and purple kinds.  Its flavor is a little like basil, a little like tarragon, a little like holy basil, a little like mint.  The purple stuff provides a great dye for pickles, and dried, produces a traditional topping for Japanese rice.  The green stuff can be salted to preserve and used fresh on seafood and, as you shall see, in cold soups.

Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso

Serves 6.

  • 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
  • 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
  • 1/2 cup kvass, should you be lucky enough to have it, or hefeweizen or other light-flavored beer
  • 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
  • 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
  • crème fraîche for garnish, optional

Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks.  Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds.  Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass.  Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso.  Blend until as smooth as possible.  You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.

Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.