General Description: Melons (Cucumis melo) are large, hard-skinned fruits in the gourd family with abundant sweet, juicy flesh and large seeds. Melons are native to the region stretching from Egypt to India. Melons of the Cucumis melo species fall into three main categories. Cantaloupes, including Galia and Charentais, are fragrant, small, and round with a rough surface divided into segments. Netted melons (or muskmelons) have a light netted pattern on the surface, usually orange flesh, and include the American “cantaloupe” and Persian melons. Winter melons ripen slowly (even continuing to ripen in storage) and are not ready until late autumn. They are slightly elongated and their skin is finely ribbed. These include the Cavaillon, honeydew, and casaba.
Cantaloupes are named for the papal villa of Cantalupo, near Rome. The European cantaloupe has a warty rind and a scented, yellow flesh. In North America, the melon called “cantaloupe” is actually a muskmelon. It features cream-colored netting over a yellowish green rind. The soft pale orange flesh is extremely juicy and sweet.
The casaba is named after a town in Turkey. It has a round bottom, firm light green to yellow lightly wrinkled skin, and a pointed tip. Its smooth-textured green flesh is juicy and subtly sweet.
The Cavaillon has been cultivated in France since the 1400s. It is whitish green on the outside with indented ribs from the stem end to the blossom end. It is a little larger than a softball and slightly oval. Its deep orange flesh is sweet, mildly crisp, and generously perfumed.
A hybrid cross of the casaba and cantaloupe, the Crenshaw has dark green skin that turns yellow as it ripens. Its flesh is salmon-colored, extra sweet, and juicy, with a sweet spicy aroma.
The Galia melon has a beige rind and aromatic, light green flesh. If allowed to get too ripe, it can develop an unpleasant chemical taste.
A member of the muskmelon family, honeydew was prized by ancient Egyptians. Sweet and succulent, the honeydew has pale, greenish white skin and pale green flesh. Its flesh is honey sweet and very tender when completely ripe: the flesh turns from green to white, is very juicy, and has a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
The native Peruvian pepino has a waxy ivory skin with distinctive purple and greenish yellow markings. Ranging in size from a plum to a large papaya, the entire pepino is edible—skin, seeds, and yellow flesh. Sweet and firm, the flesh of the pepino is quite fragrant and tastes like a combination of pear and banana.
Persian melons are large, grayish green muskmelons with delicate netting on the rind. The rich, salmon-colored flesh is sweet, delectable, and highly aromatic.
Watermelons are in a different genus, Citrullus lanatus, and have a longer history of cultivation than other melons. Watermelons are native to Africa and date back as far as 2000 BC in Egypt. Because of their high water content, they were used as a source of liquid in areas where water was limited or tainted. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, including the common elongated oval-shaped with variegated green rind, black seeds (if seeded), and deep red flesh.
Season: North American cantaloupes are available June to November. Crenshaws are available from July to October. Pepinos are available from late fall to midspring. Persian melons can be found from July through October with peak season in late summer. Watermelons are available from May through September.
Purchase: As a general rule, melons should give to gentle pressure at the blossom end and smell sweet. Precut melons, especially watermelons, sold in supermarkets must be firm and somewhat underripe so they keep their shape—a whole melon will have better flavor.
Check the stem end of a cantaloupe (or a Galia) for a clean, smooth indentation known as a “full slip.” If the edge is jagged, the cantaloupe was picked before maturity. Choose cantaloupes that are heavy for their size, with a fruity aroma and thick, well-raised netting over straw-colored rind. Choose a casaba melon that has an even-colored yellow rind. A green stem end is okay.
Look for a Crenshaw with a golden yellow rind. Ripe Crenshaws give off a spicy fragrance and have springy, not mushy skin. They are softer than other melons so handle with care. Look for fragrant, firm, unblemished pepino melons. When a Persian melon is ripe, the skin turns slightly golden, the netting lightens in color, and its perfumed fragrance becomes more pronounced. Persian melons picked before they are mature never reach full flavor.
Avoid: Overripe melons will have lumps or soft spots. Avoid lopsided or rock-hard melons. Avoid watermelons with a flat side. Hard melons should sound hollow when knocked with a knuckle.
Storage: Keep uncut melons at room temperature until fully ripened, then refrigerate for up to 5 days. Cut melon easily absorbs food odors and should be tightly wrapped with plastic and then refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- Cut in half with a clean knife.
- Using a large spoon, scoop the seeds out of the cavity (if the melon has a seed cavity) and discard them.
- Cut away the skin, depending on how the melon will be consumed.
- Cut into slices, wedges, or balls.
Serving Suggestions: Scoop melon into balls and add to fruit salad. Top melon wedges with vanilla ice cream, sprinkle lightly with chopped crystallized ginger, or drizzle with hazelnut- or orange-flavored liqueur. Blend diced melon with lime and mint to make cold melon soup. Add diced melon to salsa.
Flavor Affinities: Cilantro, feta, lemon, lime, mint, orange, pecorino, prosciutto, rum, salami, smoked duck, tequila, yogurt.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com