Do you remember your first cooking experience? Mine involved pie. I was probably 3 years old, and I stood on a chair next to my mom and helped her make pie crust. This isn’t really one specific memory for me, but a combination of many that involved making pie when I was little. My mom always had me sift the flour into a giant white mountain on a piece of waxed paper. After she measured it into her mixing bowl, she would let me play with the leftover flour. She had me help her count the number of tablespoons of water as she added them. I remember her saying, “Count them with me so I don’t lose track.” This made me feel very important, although now as I look back on it, I realize that she was using it as a way for me to practice my counting skills, not because she really needed my help.
It’s funny how those early experiences in the kitchen can change the way you feel about yourself. My mom always made me feel like her partner in the kitchen, not her assistant. She treated me with respect and gave me confidence. I learned how to cook, but more importantly, I learned how to trust my instincts. That is a skill that has served me for my whole life, not just in the kitchen.
By total coincidence I happened to have my niece over when I had already planned on making this salad. This is my grandma’s recipe, and it has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. I always make it at least once per summer, and this past Saturday just happened to be that day.
I had so much fun making this salad with my niece. As soon as she saw that I was cooking something, she came right over and wanted to help. I pulled a step-stool over so that she could see what I was doing. She sniffed as I zested the orange and lemon–how her eyes lit up at the intensity of the citrus smell! I had her guess what color the melons would be when I cut them open–she was so surprised to see bright orange inside the dusty brown cantaloupe. We talked about rainbows, and she informed me that I really needed something purple for this to be a real rainbow. I loved teaching her how to use the melon baller, and even though some of the fruit ended up on the floor, she did a really good job. My favorite part was what she told me while we were scooping: “I’m a really good cook you know.” And I told her, “Yes. Yes you are.”
Rainbow Melon Salad (my grandma’s recipe)
- 1 small cantaloupe
- 1 small seedless watermelon
- 1 small honeydew melon
- 1 can pineapple chunks
- 1 pint blueberries
- 1 orange
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- Zest and juice the orange and lemon. Drain the pineapple chunks (be sure to save the juice).
- In a small saucepan whisk together the orange zest, lemon zest, sugar, cornstarch, 1 Tablespoon orange juice, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 cup pineapple juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
- Use a melon baller to scoop the flesh of the melons into a large bowl. (If you don’t have a melon baller or don’t want to get one, just cut the melons into equal-sized chunks.) Add the pineapple chunks and blueberries and mix gently.
- Pour the cooled sauce over the fruit and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least one hour.