Melon Mania

Melon Mania
Posted June 12, 2013

Cut into a big slice of cold juicy watermelon and dig in! It's a sure sign of summer is in full swing when melons appear at your farmers' market. Big watermelons, fragrant cantaloupe and honeydew, and a variety of exotic melons are available. Each has a distinctive sweet flavor and each is a must-try this season. Just chill and enjoy!

Melons are in the same gourd family as squashes and cucumbers. Most melons have similar structure to winter squash with thick flesh and an inner seed-filled mid-section. So what’s the difference between melons and squashes? It’s the way they’re used. Squashes are considered vegetables, while melons are known as fruits with sweet and juicy flavor.

Melons are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They have a high water content and are relatively low in calories, and also fat and cholesterol free.

And the melon varieties are endless! Cantaloupe, honeydew, casaba, canary, Crenshaw, and watermelon are the most well-known varieties. Look for more specialty varieties at your farmers’ market.

The term melon describes a large round or oval fruit with skin that ranges from thin to very thick and encloses juicy flesh surrounding a central core of small seeds. Before they are even cut into, most melons have an alluring aroma that hints of the sweet, smooth flesh inside. The many melon varieties fall into two groups: muskmelons and watermelons (see related tip at right). Muskmelons include netted melons, such as cantaloupe, with fine, raised ridges; they are generally at their peak from midsummer to early fall. The category of muskmelons known as winter melons includes smooth-skinned varieties like honeydew, which are at their best during the cooler autumn months. Here are some interesting new varieties to watch for:

Crenshaw: Salmon-pink flesh yields a sweet, rich taste and slightly spicy aroma. These melons are large, weighing up to 10 pounds. Peak season: August through September.

Galia: The light-green flesh inside this melon is sweeter than that of the American cantaloupe; it's often reserved for dessert. Peak season: May through August.

Sprite: This grapefruit-sized melon has sweet, crisp ivory flesh, the taste of which contains hints of watermelon, honeydew, and pear—but much sweeter. Peak season: June and July.

Orange-Fleshed Honeydew: A luscious cross between cantaloupe and honeydew, with a slightly creamy flavor. Look for a smooth, whitish rind with a waxy texture. Peak season: May through August.

Selecting Ripe muskmelons have a strong, sweet fragrance and give slightly when pressed at both ends. A fully ripe melon may have tiny cracks at the stem end. Choose melons that are heavy for their size and free of deep blemishes, shriveled peel or soft, moldy areas.

Storing Store ripe melons in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Although it will not obtain the flavor of a vine-ripened one, an unripe melon will sweeten slightly if left in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days. An exception is the honeydew, which will stay only as sweet as it was when harvested.

Preparing Cut muskmelons in half and scoop out their seeds with a large spoon. To keep the melon moist, peel and cut off slices only as they are needed. Melons taste sweeter if served at room temperature or only slightly chilled. Remove them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

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