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Sep 16, 2019 12:54 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

LongHouse Reserve To Honor Amy Goldman On Heels Of Publication Of 'The Melon'

Sep 16, 2019 12:54 PM

It took nine growing seasons for gardener, author, sculptor and seed-saving advocate Amy Goldman to create her new book, “The Melon,” which is her second book on melons and fifth book overall.

Each book features photographs — in the case of “Heirloom Harvest,” daguerreotypes — of fruits and vegetables that Ms. Goldman grew at her Over the River Farm in Rhinebeck.

For her books and her work to raise awareness of preserving heritage seeds, the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton will honor Ms. Goldman on Saturday, September 21, at its biennial Landscape Awards Luncheon, just days after “The Melon” hits bookstore shelves.

Speaking last week from Rhineback, Ms. Goldman noted that the opening line of “The Melon” is: “Melons are a lifelong love and calling.”

That’s why — working again with Victor Schrager, who photographed her first melon book, “Melons for the Passionate Grower,” and her books on tomatoes and squash — she has followed up with a second book on the topic.

“I’ve been growing them since I am a teenager, and that’s a pretty long time ago,” Ms. Goldman, 65, said. “My first book on melons was published in 2002, but in the intervening years I’ve grown as a gardener, and I’ve learned a lot more about melons and their culture and their history.”

Though the topic is the same, she said the new book is not a second edition; rather, it is a new, more well-rounded book.

“The book includes everything you need to know to grow your own melons, to make the most of the harvest, everything you need to pick and choose a ripe melon in the market or in the garden,” Ms. Goldman said.

It also has recipes for salads, soups, entrées, desserts and drinks.

“But the heart and soul of the book,” she said, “are portraits in words and photographs of 125 extraordinary varieties. The descriptions are very detailed. Most of these melons are unknown to most Americans, and they are really fascinating. Doing the detective work was at least half the fun.”

Twelve horticultural groups of melons are included, plus watermelons have their own chapter.

“There is a more representative sample of watermelons as well, so I give them more of a fair shake in the new book,” Ms. Goldman said.

Watermelons belong to the genus Citrullus, while all the true melons in the book are Cucumis melo, in the same genus as cucumbers.

But whether a melon or watermelon, the vast majority of fruit in the book does not look like what one would find in a typical grocery store. Yes, some are honeydews, and some are what Americans call “cantaloupes,” or come close in appearance. But others could easily be mistaken for a pumpkin or decorative gourd.

The melons — some whole, many cut in half or sliced to display their color and seeds — are pictured on small pedestals. They vary widely in color.

Among the dudaim group, the tigger sport is solid red, while the Queen Anne’s pocket melon can have orange and red stripes or patterns. In the flexuoses group, the snake melon is easily mistaken for a long, crooked cucumber.

Ms. Goldman credits Mr. Schrager and his photographs for visually embodying her produce. “You really eat with your eyes,” she said.

And while the 2002 melon book was shot on film, and this book was photographed over nine years with digital cameras, the reader will not be able to tell the difference, according to Ms. Goldman.

When it comes to making books, she doesn’t get writing until she feels she has enough varieties grown and photographed to work with. Then she sets about her research at the library, she said.

She is on her eighth year of grow-outs for an heirloom pepper book with Mr. Schrager that she expects to have finished in about two years, and she is simultaneously working on a new book on pumpkins.

“I need to grow everything and know the plants intimately before I can even start the research and writing,” she said.

Though her Rhinebeck farm totals 200 acres, three-quarters of the property is wooded, and her vegetable gardens cover only 2 acres, she said. And she doesn’t sell her produce.

“I like to say that’s I’m operating a private CSA for my family and friends. Because at this point in the year, I am delivering to family and friends all over the place. I don’t sell anything — I give it away. And a lot of what I grow is for seed-saving purposes, trying to preserve some of the rarest of the rare.”

She saves heirloom seeds, meaning seeds from plants that have only been pollinated by plants of the same variety, so that the next generation remains the same as the parents. Most store-bought seeds are cross-pollinated, or hybrid, and the seeds are not suitable for saving.

Heirloom seed savers have emerged to grow and share seeds of heirloom varieties that are not widely commercially available and could be at risk of disappearing.

She joined the Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds, in 1990, worked her way up to board chair, and is now a special advisor.

“They are the biological foundation of our gardening and of our agriculture,” Ms. Goldman said of heirloom seeds. “They are the breeding material with which to make improvements to the crop. Many of them — for example, in the new melon book — they’re absolutely beautiful and delicious and worthy of knowing, growing and saving. They really are spectacular.

“My goal is to try to introduce a new generation to the splendors of the garden and the old-fashioned vegetables. So, that’s basically my pitch: It’d be tragic to lose these things. But they add so much to life and to the kitchen, to culture.”

Ms. Goldman said seed saving is simpler than most people imagine. Anyone can save heirloom seeds as long at they start with a good seed source and keep the heirlooms separate from another variety that it may cross-pollinate with. “You can learn to hand pollinate, which is a little bit more difficult. Isolation is the best way to go — isolation by distance.”

Ms. Goldman grew up on Long Island’s north shore and had her first vegetable garden there. Her connection to the East End comes from her late mother’s home in East Hampton, where her sisters, Jane Goldman and Diane Kemper, now reside, and where she will stay when she comes down to the LongHouse Awards Luncheon.

In addition to Ms. Goldman’s award, the LongHouse Landscape Award will be presented to Lynden Miller for her work in beautifying public spaces in New York City, and Thomas Woltz for his international contributions to the environmentally sensitive landscape. Charles and Kathleen Marder of Marders in Bridgehampton will be receive the LongHouse Garden Direction Award in recognition of their contributions to horticulture and ecological landscape.

“It was a great surprise, a wonderful surprise,” Ms. Goldman said of learning she would receive a LongHouse award. “I’m delighted. I’m honored to be in such company with the other honorees. I know most of them — wonderful people.”

Ms. Goldman has long had a relationship with LongHouse Reserve and its founder, Jack Lenor Larsen. In 2005, LongHouse displayed her bronze sculptures of vegetables she grew in an exhibition titled “Rare Forms.”

“When I find a beautiful pepper or pumpkin or tomato, I take it down to the foundry,” she said. “They use the lost-wax process to produce the object — and the best part of it for me is putting the patina on.”

The day’s events on Saturday, September 21, begin at 10 a.m. with a garden lecture by Lynden Miller and Thomas Woltz at Hoie Hall at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on James Lane in East Hampton. The LongHouse Reserve gardens, at 133 Hands Creek Rd, East Hampton, will then open at 11:30 a.m. for the noon Landscape Award Luncheon. To attend the lecture only, admission is $75, or $50 for LongHouse members, and includes breakfast. To attend both events, tickets are $300, or $250 for members. Visit longhouse.org.

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