The best of summer comes from the garden or a roadside produce stand; the worst lurks in our backyards.
My favorite summer garden foods are watermelon, cantaloupe, and sweet corn. Explorers introduced melons to North America in the 16th century. Watermelons originated in Africa; cantaloupes came from Persia.
A perfect watermelon is ripe, sweet and crisp. The first cut through the rind cracks. I also like my watermelon cold -- ice cold. A refrigerator will do, but five or six hours in a tub of ice is even better.
I use my nose to detect ripe cantaloupes. Even ripe grocery store cantaloupes have an irresistible aroma. A spoon slips through ripe cantaloupe flesh like a warm knife through butter. The best come from eastern Ohio Amish country.
The cleanup that follows a melon-feast is quick and easy. Cut up the rinds and toss them onto the compost pile. They decay quickly and help activate overall decomposition.
And the seeds can be recycled into bird food. Air-dry them on a sheet of butcher paper, then store them in a cool, dry place. Do this with pumpkins and squash, too. Cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and doves are just some of the feeder birds that eat melon seeds.
Our taste for sweet corn reaches deep into history. Early inhabitants of the Andes Mountains in South America used ancestral corn as a source of sweetness before the introduction of sugar cane and honeybees.
Getting truly fresh sweet corn today can be a challenge. Corn that sits too long loses its sweetness as sugars convert to starch. Grocery store corn is often several days removed from the field when we buy it. Even at roadside stands, we must take vendors at their word that the corn, "was picked early this morning."
Farmers markets may be the best sources for fresh sweet corn. But if you can ward off hungry raccoons and deer to grow your own corn, there's nothing better than husking freshly picked corn and putting it directly into a pot of boiling water.