Susan Shaw and her husband Garry own Hickory Hill Farm, a 204-acre property in Oglethorpe County. They grow certified organic fruits and vegetables on five of those acres. The property has been in Susan Shaw’s family since the early 1800s, and she and her husband are the fifth generation to work the land.
The Shaws sell their produce at the Athens Farmers Market in Bishop Park and the Athens Farmers Market at Creature Comforts Brewery, as well as the Saturday morning Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center in Atlanta. They’re also part of Collective Harvest, an Athens-based multi-farm community-supported agriculture program.
And they grow melons. Lots and lots of melons, although not as many this year as they had planned.
“We had really poor germination this year. Maybe only 30 percent of the seeds germinated,” said Susan Shaw.
The Shaws are growing a variety of melons: Honey Orange, Sugar Baby watermelon, Arava and Tasty Bites. “Last year, we field tested a lot of melon varieties for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. These were the ones that did the best out of all they gave us. We were looking at how they did in our fields, were they heat tolerant and how much did they produce. Then we taste-tested them at the farmers markets and these were the four that people liked best.”
The Honey Orange is a cantaloupe-type and the Sugar Baby is a personal-size seedless watermelon. The most unusual melon of the bunch is Arava, a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew. Shaw describes it as “a more savory-type melon. Not super sweet, it pairs well with prosciutto and cheeses.”
Shaw’s preference, though, is probably Tasty Bites. “This is a very sweet personal-size melon. A half makes a perfect bowl for ice cream or berries. It’s probably the best melon we grow.”
Offering tastes of the melons is how the Shaws get their customers to try new varieties. They find people can be leery of melons since you can as easily get a flavorless one as one that’s delicious. “We always offer samples, particularly with melons. We slice them up and give our customers a taste.”
Despite their germination woes, the Shaws are growing about 800 melon plants, which should translate to about 2,400 melons. Harvest began in mid-June and will continue until late September. “Like with any fruit, the first harvest and the last harvest aren’t as good as the peak harvest,” Shaw said. “The fruit develops more sugar around the middle of the season so those melons in late July and August should be particularly sweet.”
The toughest part for the farmer may be knowing just when to harvest their melons. “You have to know what you’re doing because once the melon comes off the vine, it won’t get any sweeter,” Shaw said. “With each melon the signs are different. It takes experience.”
As for how the farmers enjoy their own melons, Shaw says it’s usually pretty simple. “Last night we cut up the melon and served it alongside tomatoes, roasted squash and cucumbers and onions in vinegar. There’s very little time at the end of the day so we eat plain. But at least we get to eat what we harvest.”
Ration & Dram’s Sugar Baby Parfait
Ration & Dram is one of Hickory Hill Farm’s melon customers, and owner Andy Minchow shared this recipe he created for their personal-size watermelon. He wrote, “The Sugar Baby melons are great because of their concentrated watermelon flavor and sweetness. Also, since they’re small, they’re a bit more convenient. You don’t have to figure out what to do with the rest of a giant melon if you just want a couple of slices.”
If you don’t have a Sugar Baby melon, use another variety of seedless watermelon. For this recipe Ration and Dram also uses Atlanta Fresh yogurt, locally made in Norcross, and Georgia honey.
Simple syrup is made by heating 1 part water with 1 part granulated sugar until the sugar dissolves. Cool and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
“Salsa en palvo” is a mixture of chile peppers, lime and salt and is often sold as “fruit seasoning.” You may be able to find it in Hispanic section of your grocery store or at other stores that sell Hispanic groceries. A chili, lemon and salt version is available in the Hispanic spice section at the Buford Highway Farmers Market.
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons honey, or to taste
1/3 cup diced Sugar Baby watermelon
Juice from 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon simple syrup
Salsa en palvo, for garnish
Chocolate mint, for garnish
In serving dish, put yogurt in the bottom of the bowl. Drizzle with honey.
In a small bowl, toss watermelon with lime juice and simple syrup. Arrange watermelon on top of yogurt and sprinkle with salsa en palvo. Garnish with mint and serve immediately. Serves: 1
Per serving: 147 calories (percent of calories from fat, 12), 7 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 88 milligrams sodium.