This is a guest post by Joanne Hatherly. Joanne spends summers at an Ontario cottage that she shares with her hubby Dave and a borrowed hound named Sandy. She writes about hosting and cottage cookery from her single-sink-kitchen that is located more than 40 minutes from the nearest grocery store. She is a journalist whose news and feature articles have appeared across Canada, and a novelist working on her second book. Follow her on Twitter @johatherly.
Not much happens at our little cottage on the lake.
Watermelon is an iconic summer fruit, and so naturally I say yes, but with misgivings.
We have one fridge, and it is already full, and this is before the three families descending on us this weekend arrive with their food-laden coolers.
We are in some trouble. The temperatures will soar over the next few days, making chilled storage a must, so I paused at the watermelon. It will take up at least one-half of a shelf in our fridge, space that is already occupied by clear plastic packs of pineapple wedges and blueberries, loose Macintosh apples, lemons and limes, as well as a netted bag of rumple-skinned mandarins.
Likely, I will evict the oranges and Macintoshes, which would seem to solve the problem, but here is the thing: Odds are that this evening, there will be more than one watermelon careening down the highway in our direction.
The fact that my friend is willing at the last minute to squeeze one giant oblong fruit into her family-loaded van is a sign that the watermelon crop is coming into season, and because she is financially frugal, it also signals that watermelons are on sale.
Hence, it is likely that all of our guests on their cottagey shopping excursions have pushed their buggies past mountains of melons at discounted prices, enticing them to load these green tiger-striped fruits into their carts.
This means we could have as many as three or four watermelons in our refrigerator, which would handily take up 40 per cent of its storage capacity.
I can hear some readers mumble that any seasoned cottager should know that watermelons store just fine at room temperature, and can be tossed in the refrigerator a few hours ahead of consumption for cooling to that lovely icy snap.
If only. While some cottages are in quaint little village arrangements where leafy lanes criss-cross down a gentle slope to a broad white sand beach, ours is ensconced in the wilds of the Canadian shield, a rocky wild region heavily populated with our furry nemeses: Bears and mice.
Aromatic foods of any sort are not left out in cottage country. Bears have a notoriously superior sense of smell, a fact strikingly brought home a few years ago when a black bear was filmed climbing three stories up a residential building in a quest to snap the fruit off a single potted tomato plant from an apartment balcony.
We have several coping mechanisms for an over-abundance of cold-storage foods.
The first is to keep the guests’ coolers in service. Transfer into the fridge only those food items most prone to spoiling, such as meat and dairy products, and keep the rest in the coolers. We keep a good supply of frozen ice packs ready for service as guests might not have enough ice packs to endure a steamy hot weekend.
The second trick is to start serving the surplus fruits immediately. That means cutting up the watermelon in easy-to-grab pieces, storing them in clear containers on the eye-level fridge shelf and unabashedly creating demand for them with some not-so-subtle advertising that entails sticking green painters tape across the containers that read “crunchy sweet watermelon – help yourself!” in bold black felt-marker lettering. Product placement is everything. So are endorsements, so whenever someone announces their hunger pangs, we cheerfully respond, “There’s watermelon in the fridge! It’s delicious!” We try to not look like Stepford wives when we say this, so we keep the grins notched down below face-splitting.
You can tell I’ve been around this block before.
Sweet corn hit a bumper crop one year, such that along the highway to our place, farmers parked pick-up trucks loaded with cobs. All of our guests stopped to buy a few dozen. We served corn-on-the-cob at every meal, including breakfast, that weekend.
Another year, salsa silliness swept our friends’ palates and we closed out the cottage that year with a bin full of unopened salsa jars. They lasted us well into the next year and beyond.
We occasionally debate bringing a second refrigerator into our cabin to accommodate all these fine eats, however, but we can’t find an inch of spare space to put the thing.
We mused over plugging one in outside, until we found out from another cottager that their outdoor fridge is subjected to hugging, rocking and tipping from the local bear population. The fridge is latched and locked, but the critters found their way in, such that the cottager peeked out one day to see a bruin downing a two-litre bottle of soda, clutching it between two well-clawed paws like a baby at a bottle.
I am resigned to the oncoming watermelon deluge. It’s all part of the fun of cottage-hosting, but any red-fleshed fruit still standing come Sunday night is heading back down the highway toward my friends’ city homes.
And that is all that is happening at our place this weekend.
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