When most folks experience Bonnaroo, a giant music festival held outside Manchester, Tennessee, they remember the new music they heard, the adventures they had, the strangers they met. But the moment that sticks with me is my discovery of the cantaloupe dessert truck on Day 3.
It was the summer of 2003, and I was working as a bartender at the second-ever Bonnaroo. But I'll be honest—up until five minutes ago, I thought it was the first. Even being from Tennessee, I hadn't heard of the festival until my bartending instructor asked if I'd like to join his team. I had to get myself to Manchester (easy since I had a car and was staying with my parents who lived less than two hour's drive away); and I had to secure my own accommodations (not as easy in that rural community that wasn't yet a requisite destination for music lovers). Still, I found what might have been the last hotel room within reasonable distance—albeit one which also could have doubled as the setting for a B-grade film noir.
The week leading up to Bonnaroo had been a wet one, and when I strolled into the festival grounds I could already see that the fields had been pummeled with rain. And even though the sun was bright and boiling that morning and would be for the next few days, there was no way around the inevitable: I was entering a four-day mud pit.
The festival days were long and hot: pulling SweetWater beer and popping the tops from Jack Daniel's hard lemonade as my shoes became caked with mud, weighing them down more with each step.
But on our breaks, my fellow bartenders and I wouldn't sit around and find zen. We didn't try and scrub our shoes clean—it would be a wasted effort anyway. We didn't even need to find something to eat, since we'd established a barter system with the tent adjacent to ours: We'd supply them with booze if they supplied us with burgers as needed. Instead, we'd head to one of the five stages to catch some music act we were dying to see. I watched James Brown get up offa that thing, reveled in Emmylou Harris's sorrowful, soulful vibrato, and stopped to marvel at the innovative sound of Spearhead. I passed Sonic Youth, Béla Fleck, and more as I made my way around. And, of course, I moshed at Jack Johnson because it was 2003 and it was Bonnaroo.
But after a few days, the nonstop diet of burgers wasn't quite cutting it. I was wandering around looking for a respite from ground beef when I spotted the aforementioned truck. I don't know who those melon purveyors were or where they are now, but they were selling one of the most delicious and surprising flavor combinations I've ever experienced. Their product: a mini cantaloupe, halved, seeds scooped out, with a mound of vanilla ice cream tucked into the center.
Both the ice cream and the ripe summer melon were easily pierced with a disposable spoon—and as I ate, the nuttiness of the vanilla meeting the fragrant melon, the fruit's juices collected in the center, swirling with melting ice cream. When I reached the melon's edge, the netted skin made an ideal bowl—both sustainable and compostable before I even knew those things mattered. I slurped the creamy, fruity dregs from that bowl, fully resigned to the fact that I'd just had one of the great flavor revelations of my life.
I went back the next day for a second helping, but it was the last day of the festival and they'd already sold out. Not to be thwarted, I vowed then and there, shaking my fist at the Tennessee sky, to recreate the experience as often as I possibly could.
That's why every time melon season rolls around, my friends know they can expect a cantaloupe sundae to make an appearance at least once at my table—sometimes I even make cantaloupe ice cream, which is as easy as swapping in melon for the fruit in your favorite peach ice cream recipe. The only catch? Those mini cantaloupes can be hard to come by. I've scored one on a few occasions, but more often than not, I have to make do with a full-size melon and cut it down to size.
When I mentioned the idea of a melon sundae to Anna Stockwell, her ideas starting spinning. "What if you used a melon baller to scoop both the melon and the ice cream into a cute dessert bowl!?" she suggested. I don't know when the last time I used a melon baller to actually scoop melon (for the record, it's the best tool for scraping the seeds from a cucumber or removing the core from a halved apple) but the visual appeal of a bowl of creamy white and orange orbs was too much to resist.
Of course you can top your cantaloupe sundae with anything you like. I go for flaky salt and toasted sliced almonds—or, if I can find it, chopped almond brittle. A little crunch is always a good thing. Anna threw on some toasted unsweetened coconut flakes and a drizzle of honey—both perfect partners for the melon and vanilla ice cream pairing.
I'm not a bartender anymore. No one would hire me once I got to the city without "New York experience." (Look at me now, chumps!) But I am still a cantaloupe and vanilla ice cream evangelist. Join me, won't you?
Originally Appeared on Epicurious