Melon day in Turkmenistan
Starting from the middle of summer, when melon and watermelon open-air bazaars are opened in Moscow and many other Russian cities, a feeling of cucurbitaceous abundance appears. And only very sophisticated gourmand will not be tempted with yellow-side fruits of only two sorts bearing folksy names – “torpedo” and “kolhoznitsa”.
Due to the climatic conditions, only fast-ripening sorts of melons can be grown in the southernmost regions of Russia. Accordingly, for consumers melons are brought from Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan. The main requirement to sorts exported to Russia is not their taste qualities, but the ability to long storage and transportation. Therefore, only “champions” – long-livers able to preserve marketable state during a month after leaving their plantation are eaten by Russians.
Of course, those who never tried real Asian melons, kolhoznitsa and torpedo may seem a fairly good product. However, if someone has ever tried a freshly picked ripe yellow-side beauty from a Turkmen plantation he will never be tempted with fruits stocked on Moscow melon counters.
In August, Turkmenistan marks a unique holiday ranked as national one – the Melon Day. To an ignorant person it will be difficult to understand why this month was selected to honor the popular dainty. The melon harvesting season is long. The first fast-ripening sorts are picked in the end of May and thick-peel winter melons picked up in the end of October do not disappear from local bazaars till the start of spring. And the sweetest patches of braided dried melons are sold in Ashgabat bazaars all year round.
It is in August that the ripening season of the queen of melons – the sweetest melon representing the “vaharman” sort comes. The full ripeness period of this sort falls on a short period – from the middle of August to the tenth of September. Within this time one should not waste time and enjoy the unforgettable taste of the product.
It can be done only in Turkmenistan: vaharman’s thin and tender peel is easily spoilt during transportation, and it can’t be kept for the long period. Therefore, it is meaningless to export it by road and railway, and too expensive to do that by air. It is not by chance that my Moscow friends always ask for only one August souvenir from Ashgabat – melon of vaharman sort.
It seems easy to grow a melon. Plant a seed into the soil, water it sometimes, and the generous Turkmen sun will do its business – saturate the fruit with honey sweetness. Just be on time to pick up the melon, otherwise it will crack from the excess of ripeness. However, this simplicity is false. Such an exclusive sort as vaharman requires special treatment. If there are beds with other sorts of melons nearby, the cross-pollination can spoil the taste qualities of the vaharman.
The less the melon is watered, the sweeter its pulp will be when harvesting. It doesn’t mean the plant can do without water. The redundant amount of water is not needed. It is known that a melon cutting was engrafted upon the stem of the camel’s thorn, a desert plant which root system goes as deep as 10 meters and is able to collect moisture from the depths. It is a too long procedure for large-scale plantation.
By the moment the melon reaches its peak of consuming qualities, man encounters a serious competitor in assessing its taste. An old Turkmen proverb says: “The sweetest melon is a jackal’s possession”. Indeed, the chains of jackal tracks can be always seen on the sand where melons are grown. No matter how the owner of plantations tries to preserve the harvest, how strictly he sets the severe guards - ferocious Turkmen wolfhounds, alabai, - on jackals, the artful old residents of the desert confirm every time the fairness of the proverb by taking the tribute due to them. Out of every hundred melons ten-twenty fruits turn out bitten off.
There is a small trick that I always show to my Moscow friends when treat them with a melon brought from Ashgabat. Every melon seems to have a form of even circle. In fact, if to look hard, one can see slightly three standing out edges of an equilateral triangle. If the melon is cut exactly by the apex of each of these edges, each of three portions of the melon will have an undamaged braid of melon seeds. In this case, these braids are easily separated from the pulp of the fruit.
The sweetest melon is the one that is picked up from the patch at the moment of ripening peak. It is enough to put a knife on it as a thin peel cracks uncovering the creamy pulp with yellow rows of seeds. It is extremely difficult to describe the delicate taste of tender retina saturated with generous odors of the desert. One will lack epithets to transfer all nuances of satisfaction: one can guess the smell of honey, a subtle piquant sourness. The sappiness of the fruit producing sugar juice simply strikes the imagination.
The melon bought in the market is also good but yields to the one eaten on the plantation. To bring the miracle from the desert patch to the city bazaar, melon growers have to pick them up slightly unripe. A couple of days are needed to transport them carefully. The melon will spend one day or two in the bazaar to find its buyer. However, this insignificant loss of qualities doesn’t reduce the popularity of the vaharman sort.
Despite the August abundance, the melons in bazaars are sold quickly: this refined dessert makes any table festive. Therefore, the time of harvesting vaharman is marked as a national holiday – the Turkmen Melon Day. And if someone wants to come to Ashgabat, he should do it in August despite the hot Turkmen summer.