Fathoming Melons: Inside Cantaloupe and Honeydew

Ahhh, there’s nothing like digging into a cold, sweet, juicy melon in the middle of a hot, steamy summer afternoon.

Ever go to the market, pick out what looks like the perfect cantaloupe, get it home, set it on the counter, and, knife poised, mouth watering for that succulent orange flesh, cut it open and it’s all yellow and drier than the Sahara inside and tastes like uncooked pumpkin? Pfitt. Well, hopefully, the tidbits offered here will serve as your oasis for avoiding such frustrating expeditions. We’ll journey into the inner sanctum of a cantaloupe where it’s all dark and seedy so you can learn to decipher the enigmatic symbols of succulence.

Melons have been around for nearly 5,000 years. They were depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings dating back to 2400 B.C., originated in the Middle East, spread across Europe, and later were brought to America by Christopher Columbus.

Jerry Seinfeld, in one of his sitcom episodes, said something like, “Buying fruit’s a gamble. I know that before going into it.” TV and movies provide us with a view into the lives and hearts of others. Many of us have often wished we could be provided just as simply with a view into the hearts of melons, perhaps through little windows affixed to their sides.

ENCOUNTERS WITH CANTALOUPE

Cantaloupes grown in the United States are really muskmelons. True cantaloupes are grown in Europe, are not netted and have deep grooves, a hard warty rind and orange or green flesh, according to Vegetarians in Paradise at http://www.vegparadise.com/ and other sources. You have to go to Europe to taste true cantaloupe – a good reason to take that French or Italian vacation that’s been tantalizing you.

When selecting a ripe cantaloupe, first, look at the stem end. A cantaloupe when mature will fall away from the stem, so if you see stem remnants attached, the cantaloupe was picked before it was fully mature. It may never ripen properly – it may remain hard and dry inside. Second, look for cracks around the stem end. Not all ripe cantaloupes immediately develop cracks in this area, but cracks are a sound indication of ripeness. Third, sniff the stem end. A cantaloupe will taste exactly as it smells. A cantaloupe that has a little green inside the ribs is not quite ripe.

Look for cantaloupe with tight, smooth, even netting. These are the sweetest. The sweetest cantaloupes tend to be more oval than round. A cantaloupe with a wide webbing (netting) or spots bare of webbing will be very juicy, but not sweet. The melon, of course, should look nice, not have any bruises or soft spots. Those heavy for their size are juicy.

Some shoppers test the ripeness of a melon by shaking it to see if the seeds rattle, like they’re a gourd player in the rhythm section of a Latin band. The seeds don’t have to be very loose for the melon to be ready to eat. The seeds should be attached to the membrane. Once they are loose, the melon is probably past its prime.

If you bring home a cantaloupe that’s not yet ripe, let it sit out on your kitchen counter a couple of days until it’s ready. Cantaloupes ripen rapidly. Refrigerate cantaloupe after it has ripened.

Cantaloupes are a good source of vitamins A and C, potassium, niacin, vitamins B6 and folate, and dietary fiber. They are low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol.

HOW RIPE IS MY HONEYDEW?

As you’ve no doubt experienced, the honeydew is the most inscrutable of melons. Is it tender and juicy inside, sweet as ambrosia, or hard and dry, bland as a cucumber?

A woman farm market customer once said, “A ripe honeydew should be smooth, like a man’s bald head.” Her advice has proven reliable. Alton Brown of the TV Food Network said that In Japan where melons “cost thirty bucks a pop”, farmers use MRIs to show when the sugar content is at its peak or if there are any big hollow spots.

A honeydew on a display table that is more golden than its greener neighbors and less hard and shiny is the one to pick up. A ripe honeydew should have a velvety appearance, a creamy yellow skin and feel slightly waxy. It will be firm with a small amount of softness at the stem and around – not on – the blossom end and will be fairly large. Melons that have stayed longer on the vine are sweeter.

Your local farm market farmer harvests his cantaloupe and honeydew just a couple of days before the customer will take them home ready to eat. Honeydews to be shipped, however, are picked mature but before they are ripe to give them traveling time and a reasonable shelf life. Sometimes after you get them home they’ll take a week, maybe more to ripen enough to eat. Just let the melon sit out on your counter, not refrigerated, and out of the sun, until it’s ready.

Many varieties of honeydew exist on the market. Honeydew is the American name for the cultivar White Antibes, a group of muskmelon, grown for many years in southern France and Algeria.

Honeydew melons are are a good source of vitamins C, B6, folate and potassium. They are low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

CUKER BITS

Did you know that salting a cantaloupe, honeydew or cucumber will help prevent indigestion from eating them? Moreover, the heart of the melon – any kind of melon, or squash – is the sweetest. Melons taste blander – more like cucumbers – close to the rind and on the ends. Watermelons, muskmelons, honeydews, pumpkins, squashes and cucumbers are classified as cucurbits, all members of the Cucurbitaceous or gourd family of plants.

Aside from going to the market and asking a knowledgeable employee, you can find a great video at YouTube on the Web (at least at the time of this writing) for selecting a ripe melon at “Good Eats with Alton Brown”, called “Melondrama”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck2oZglnzVk. At about four minutes into the video, Brown gives the method of choosing a melon.

Refrigerate ripe melons but do not freeze them. Melons give off ethylene gas as they ripen. This hastens the decay of any other produce in your refrigerator. For this reason (if not also to keep everything else in your refrigerator from tasting like cantaloupe), wrap your cut melon tightly in plastic wrap before refrigerating it. Always refrigerate cut melon. Do not remove the seeds from the remaining sections as they keep the flesh from drying out, according to the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.

Placing cubed, ripe melon in a closed container in your refrigerator extends freshness.

You can find fruit, veggie and herb nutrient information, recipes and tips of the day at http://www.produceoasis.com/.

The best way to gain melon expertise is to eat lots of them. You’ll soon learn the secrets of a melon’s interior from its outward appearance. Moreover, by eating lots of fruit you’ll feel healthier. So, pull up a chair, sit down, tuck your napkin under your chin and dig in.

Vegetarians in Paradise note a Middle Eastern proverb that states, “He who fills his stomach with melons is like he who fills it with light – there is baraka (a blessing) in them.”

Cold Honeydew-Lime Soup

Ingredients:

6 to 8 pound honeydew melon

2 tsp. soybean oil

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (or hot-pepper sauce to taste)

1 cup fruity white wine, such as Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc

2/3 cup (4 large) fresh lime or lemon juice

2 Tbsps honey

1 tsp ground white pepper

Cut the melon in half.

Scoop out the seeds and discard.

With a spoon, scoop out the flesh (you should have 8 to 10 cups).

Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Add the jalapeño peppers and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until soft.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. (If using hot pepper sauce, omit the oil and stir the hot sauce into the wine.)

Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the melon, wine mixture, lime juice, honey, and white pepper.

In a blender or food processor, puree the melon mixture, in batches, until very smooth.

Pour into a large bowl and stir until blended.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until well chilled.

Preparation time: 30 minutes (excluding refrigeration time). Serves: 8

Recipe courtesy of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), formerly 5 A Day. At their Web site, FruitsandVeggiesMatter.gov, you can calculate your personal fruit and vegetable needs, find healthy fruit and vegetable recipes, and learn new ideas for eating fruits and vegetables.

–Samantha Mozart

 

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