Serving a slice of history, cantaloupes

Jul. 19, 2014 @ 08:14 PM

RIDGEWAY — There is one farm left in Warren County that sells authentic Ridgeway cantaloupes.

It’s owned by Richard Holtzmann and his family.

But in the cantaloupe heyday, there were at least 39 family farms in the Ridgeway area where the unusually sweet fruit was grown and sold.

The ninth annual Ridgeway Cantaloupe Festival is one way the residents try to maintain the history of their community.

Thousands came to taste the famously delicious Ridgeway cantaloupes that were once served at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Frederick Gill made a visit to the festival Saturday because he heard Ridgeway cantaloupes are nothing like those in an average grocery store.

“I’m here visiting family in Norlina, but I heard about it so I thought I would check it out,” said Gill, who was traveling from Maryland.

Charla Duncan, executive director of the Warren County Chamber of Commerce, experienced the festival for the first time Saturday as well.

Duncan, who grew up in Warren County, said the food is one of her favorite aspects of the event.

She had a peach and cantaloupe smoothie, watermelon juice and chicken with waffles.

Another thing she loved about the festival — getting to talk to people.

“This is a huge part of our history, and it’s nice to be able to talk about it with other people — especially those coming from out of town to see all this,” she said.

The Ridgeway area was settled by Germans in the 19th century, said Gabriel Cumming, a local nonprofit owner who is learning more about Ridgeway cantaloupes this summer.

“This is an area where German settlers and African-Americans had been enjoying fruit for a long time,” he said. “Before it was cantaloupes, it was berries. Those farmers came with an interest and an aptitude for fruit production.”

Cumming said the combination of a certain group of people and a certain type of environmental conditions made it possible for Ridgeway cantaloupes to happen.

“There is a lot of fruit growing potential in this area,” he said.

As part of the summer project, Cumming and his colleagues are seeking help from the community to find out where the cantaloupes were previously grown.

So far, he has about 39 locations within the Ridgeway community.

“It would be interesting to see if places where Ridgeway cantaloupes grew the best were associated with certain kinds of conditions because the hypothesis basically is that there are conditions in the Ridgeway area that make it good for cantaloupes," he said.

Cumming said the soil and growing conditions distinguish Ridgeway cantaloupes from those grown elsewhere.

“What makes Ridgeway cantaloupe special is about Ridgeway — not the particular type or variety,” he said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.