IT'S MELON SEASON AT OOH LA LA!
Once the melons are peeled, we move from our delightful melon intoxication to a more scientific, intricate process of confit concoction. The peeled melons are placed into metal containers and we pour a special, syrup solution over them. Then we enter what we call ‘the slow time.’ Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were candied melons. Turning melons into confit is a painstaking and patient process. Each day, we scientifically test the melon using a refractometer. We measure the syrup to water ratio by applying a Brix measurement, and extract the water until finally nothing remains but melon in all its ripe, juicy, intense goodness. The measurement for this process needs to be just right a la Goldilocks, and we increase the Brix measure by a particular degree each day. Let’s put it this way: if you found getting your sourdough starter a tricky process, it has nothing on melon confit.
Ooh La La’s bi-annual melon magic takes me back to those early days in Provence where I traveled as often as I could (and my children’s school teachers would allow), to imbibe the oral traditions and secret methods of calisson craft from the older, calisson masters.
For those of you who don’t know, these travels were the beginning of Ooh La La Confectionery as I studied the art of the calisson and went on to master many other unique French confections. Something I learned from these masters is that the perfection of every single ingredient matters. They say god is in the details, well, so is calisson! While the almond is the queen and cornerstone of this sweetmeat, in Provence the birthplace of calisson, the confection relies on the contributions of three different villages. Each place contributes an indispensable element to this morsel: Cavaillon is the village where the flame-orange Charentais melons are cultivated, Apt has perfected the art of candying fruit and Aix-en-Provence is where the calisson comes to life.
I am proud to let you know that South Africa is also a producer of some of the finest melons in the world. After scouring for the very best source, I discovered a beautiful melon farm, Schulpad, in the magnificent Limpopo province. Baobab trees line the roads and buck and baboons laze around as the farmers at Schulpad cultivate the very best cantaloupe orange melon, known in South Africa as spanspek. I have sampled many melons in my life and I can testify that Schulpad melons rival their cousins in Cavaillon and without wanting to offend, they might even be a little bit better.
So this last week, as the summer arced upward for its final stretch, we at Ooh La La sat under our vines and peeled hundreds of melons and prepared them for their candied metamorphosis. Now, we begin the three- month long ritual, watching, tending, measuring as the melons magically transform. In a few months time, when the melon has crystallized into its preserved perfection, we will begin the process of calisson making.