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History of 'lopes finally is revealed

September 05, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - This weekend, hundreds - if not thousands - of people will be buying and feasting on Boonsboro 'lopes ... in Nevada.

Boonsboro cantaloupes, whose formal name are Hearts of Gold, didn't originate in Boonsboro or Nevada, but in the Midwest.

However, people in the East and West grew fond of the heirloom variety in the early 20th century, thanks to its sweet, juicy taste, according to farmers here and there.

Hearts of Gold still are popular enough in Nevada that Fallon, Nev., is hosting the Hearts of Gold Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair this holiday weekend. The cantaloupes haven't been sold at Boonesborough Days in approximately 25 years, said Wanda Heuer, 79, who has helped with the festival all 33 years.

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But the cantaloupes still are available in the Boonsboro area, contrary to a rumor that spread recently, two sellers said.

At least one customer asked about the cantaloupe variety after hearing that the last farmer who grew Hearts of Gold in the area was stopping, said Cliff Pereschuk, co-owner of Cronise Market Place on Boonsboro's South Main Street.

While several of the farmers who used to grow Hearts of Gold in southern Washington County have died or stopped farming that variety, there still are local growers and sellers, said Pereschuk and farmer Staley Shafer. Pereschuk said he draws customers from Washington, D.C., who buy the cantaloupes.

"We've been raising them now for about 50 years or better. They say it's the ground that makes them good," said Shafer, 78, who owns San-Mar Produce Market at 8410 Mapleville Road.

Cantaloupe 'mystique'


In the mid-20th century, many Boonsboro-area farmers who grew Boonsboro cantaloupes were truck farmers, said Jeff Semler, with the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

They specialized in growing cantaloupes and perhaps other fruits and vegetables, selling the food from their trucks as they drove around the county, Semler said.

"They got this mystique that their cantaloupes were better than the average cantaloupe," Semler said. "Whether they were or not remains to be seen or is lost, I guess."

While Boonsboro cantaloupes aren't easy to come by anymore, Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. said he enjoys their delicious taste as often as he can find them. His wife, Cindy, got him started on the local variety.

Cindy Kauffman, 51, said she grew up eating Boonsboro cantaloupes, which her father grew in town.

When younger, she ate them with salt, but she now prefers them plain.

"They really don't need anything if they're sweet and juicy, and they generally are," she said.

During the Boonsboro cantaloupe's heyday, they were smaller - the size of a softball - than they typically are today, Semler said.

Pereschuk's wife, Bonnie, recommends cutting the smaller Boonsboro cantaloupes in half, scooping out the seeds and dropping in a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cronise's has grown and/or sold Boonsboro cantaloupes since Bonnie Pereschuk's grandfather, E.E. Cronise, founded the market in 1928, she said. They now buy them from local growers.

"We use to line the walks with half-bushel baskets in the '60s," Bonnie Pereschuk said. "People didn't buy one or two (cantaloupes). They bought them by the whole basket.

"It put us on the map."

It's the ground


Staley Shafer said it's the ground that makes Boonsboro cantaloupes so good.

Staley said rain is needed for Boonsboro cantaloupes to do well, but Cliff Pereschuk said too much rain can really hurt them.

Farmers would grow Hearts of Gold on hillsides or on mounds of dirt to keep them from taking on too much water by sitting in it, Pereschuk said.

Hearts of Gold farmers said there's a trick or two or three to knowing when to pick the variety because they don't turn yellow like many cantaloupes do. This variety stays green with a tan netting.

They're ready to pick when they crack off the stem, Shafer and Pereschuk said.

Shafer picks his cantaloupes when they are ripe. Ants seeking the sap out of the stem is a sign the cantaloupe is ready, he said. Experienced farmers also can tell by the color, which lightens.

Customers can tell when the Boonsboro cantaloupe is ripe by pressing on the blossom end. If the skin gives a little, it's ready to eat, Bonnie Pereschuk said.

History lesson


O.J. Vannoy was the first to grow Hearts of Gold in the Fallon, Nev., area, in 1911, said Rick Gray, executive director for the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority and a committee member for the cantaloupe festival.

They were grown there in abundance in the 1920s and 1930s, Gray said.

Rick Lattin, with Lattin Farms in Fallon, said his family has been growing Hearts of Gold since the 1950s.

Nevada's Hearts of Gold market crashed early in the century when California farmers grew hybrid varieties that stood up better to shipping, Lattin said. A few families kept the variety alive in northern Nevada, he said.

Compared with hybrid cantaloupes, Hearts of Gold have a short shelf life, farmers said. Once ripened, they last approximately three days if kept cool.

As for the origins of the Boonsboro or Hearts of Gold cantaloupe, local farmers weren't sure.

The answer is Benton Harbor, Mich., said Aaron Whaley, associate director of Seed Savers Exchange. The Decorah, Iowa-based exchange is a nonprofit group that saves and shares heirloom seeds.

According to the 1937 publication "Vegetables of New York," Roland Morrill crossed the Osage melon with the Netted Gem melon in 1890, Whaley said.

It took Morrill a while to stabilize the new variety, Hearts of Gold, Whaley said.

Morrill was granted a trademark for the variety on Dec. 15, 1914, according to www.seedsavers.org.

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