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Know your melons, then pick a winner

Peak season

Melons: As if all those triple-digit temperatures weren’t enough to clue you in, the markets are awash in melons -- one of the surest signs that we have hit the heart of summer. How do you pick a good one? It depends. There are two main families of melons: those with rough, netted or reticulated rinds (muskmelons, cantaloupes, etc.) and those whose rinds are baby-smooth (such as honeydew). With the netted melons, the best indicator is smell: They should be intensely perfumed. Also, the net should be raised, and the rind underneath it should be tan to golden, not green. These melons “slip” from their stems when they are ripe, so their bellybuttons will be clean. The honeydew is harder to choose (it is called “inodorous” for its lack of perfume). The best clue is color -- it should be rich and creamy. The rind will also feel almost waxy. If you find a melon that has freckles, buy it -- those are sugar spots.

Various vendors, $1 to $1.50 per pound.

Last chance

Mulberries: Though this has been a trying year for most fruit, it’s been a relative wonderland for mulberry lovers. Not so long ago, these little gems (their flavor is what you dream of a blackberry tasting like) were so scarce they were sold like contraband. The few who grew them kept them hidden, and celebrity pastry chefs practically stalked their favorite farmers in hopes of getting some. Mulberries have been a little more plentiful this year, though if you want them you certainly have to get to the market early and know whom to ask. For the record, Weiser Farms and Garcia Organic Farm will have them for another couple of weeks, but Circle C Ranch is reportedly sold out. There may be one or two others out there as well; but with mulberries, the hunt is part of the savor.

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Garcia Organic Farm, Weiser Family Farms, $10 per half-pound.

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Mulberry ice cream

Total time: 20 minutes, plus freezing time

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Servings: Makes 1 quart

Note: From pastry chef Kimberly Sklar of Literati II in West L.A.

2 to 3 cups ripe mulberries

1 cup whole milk

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1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 corn syrup

4 egg yolks

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1. Puree the mulberries in a food mill so the seeds won’t be broken up. Strain the berries, reserving 2 teaspoons of the seeds to add back into the mixture, if desired.

2. Heat the milk and cream to just barely a boil.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, corn syrup and egg yolks. Slowly add the milk mixture to the egg yolks, tempering the mixture. Pour the mixture back into the pan and return it to the stove. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until it just thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, and you can draw a clean line with your finger, it is done, about 6 minutes.

4. Strain the mixture and cool in an ice bath until cold. Fold in the mulberry puree and whisk in the seeds, if desired.

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5. Freeze according to ice cream maker instructions.

Each serving of one-half cup: 246 calories; 3 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 15 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 151 mg. cholesterol; 39 mg. sodium.

-- Russ Parsons


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