Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Tri-Cities First in US to Raise Casaba Melon

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, December 4, 1960, page 8.

The casaba melon was introduced from Kasaba, near Smyrna, Asia Minor. The Tri-City region was possibly the first place in the United States to grow the casaba melon. The United States congressmen, in the early days, sent free samples of seeds to their farmer constituents. The congressmen sent the sample seeds under their franking priviledges. This campaigning was inexpensive but very effective in the frontier districts. The pioneer farmer was always interested in any new crop. He was continually experimenting to find the most profitable crop to be raised.

A pioneer farmer in the Kennewick area received one of these free seed samples. It was in a yellow envelope. The seeds resembled cucumber seeds. The planting, care and harvesting was explained in detail on the envelope. The farmer followed the instructions explicitly. The vines were well set with the melons. The melons were picked prior to frost. They were then stored in wheat straw on the earthern floor of the farmer’s cellar.

Thanksgiving day the farmer brought the largest melon to his wife. She carefully cut it in half and scooped out the seeds. The seeds were then dried and placed in a covered crock for safe keeping. The melon was served with the Thanksgiving dinner; its lucious, juicy content was enjoyed by all. The farmer and his family feasted every Sunday and holiday during the winter and spring on casaba.

Great care was taken in securing all the seeds from the melons that were eaten. By spring planting time, the farmer had saved a goodly supply of the excellent seed. He planted quite a large acreage to casabas.

The cellar storage was greatly enlarged. He was in the casaba raising business. There were no wooden box or crate manufacturing plants in these early days. The farmer bought the lumber and made his own crates. He had grown and stored his crop of casabas. How was he to sell them? He sent sample crates to the fruit and produce houses in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and Missoula.

The pioneer farmer of the Tri-City area had plenty of hard problems to solve in marketing his crops. The fruit and produce companies of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane all admited the delicious flavor of the casaba and its wonderful keeping qualities. They would not, however, buy them from the farmer. The only way they would handle them was on consignment, the farmer prepaying the freight. This was a very one-sided deal. The farmer would not accept this arrangement. Fortunately he received a long letter from the owner of the produce company in Missoula. He thanked the farmer for the sample casabas. He had taken a great interest in the new melon. He was extremely pleased in the wonderful flavor and keeping qualities of the casabas. He saw a great future demand for this melon. The fact that it would keep in ordinary dry storage and maintain its flavor for more that a six-month period made it a melon superior to any he had ever handled. The farmer was so impressed by the courteous and straightforward letter, that he consigned his entire crop to the Missoula concern. A wonderful market for the casabas was developed.

The farmer always raised high grade melons. The produce concern always dealt fairly to those from whom it bought and to whom it sold. These transactions happened over 60 years ago. The farmer and the then head of the produce concern, have long gone to their final reward.

Casabas are still grown in the United States. They are most often not ripened in dry storage as in their native Symna. Casabas should be ripened in dry storage until all the juicy mellow flavor has been developed. Then placed in cold storage to hold it at this peak. If you happen to be in Missoula tomorrow or the next day or the next, day, you will find the same Missoula concern still doing business under the same name and under the same old business principles.

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