Sweet, juicy, thirst-quenching, refreshingall the things you look for in a food on a hot summer day. Taste-wise, melons have it all. Plus, they're fat-free, full of vitamins and fun to eat, especially for kids. Cantaloupes, honeydews and watermelons are all ideal for summertime enjoyment, whether it's for breakfast, a picnic in the park or after supper on the porch.
Melons are a universal pleasure. People have been eating them for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians prized the honeydew, while early explorers used watermelons as canteens. The cantaloupe is named for a castle in Italy. In China and Japan watermelon is a popular gift to bring a host and here in the United States it's always on the menu for summer cookouts.
A word to the wisealways be careful to wash your melons before you cut into them. Disease-causing bacteria could very likely be clinging to the outer rind, and can be transferred to the flesh of the fruit when it's cut into.
The Melon Family
Cantaloupes have orange flesh and a distinctive, sweet and succulent taste. Truth be told, cantaloupes are only grown in Europe. The American fruits are actually muskmelons, but both are delicious. The fruit is packed with vitamin A and vitamin C, and is also a good source of folate.
- Pick cantaloupes that feel heavy for their size, smell fragrant, are well-netted and don't have any sign of a stem (that means they were picked too early).
- Shaking cantaloupes isn't a good way to gauge if they're ripe.
- Most cantaloupes are sold before they're ready to eat. To ripen, put a whole melon in a loosely closed paper bag. The fruit won't ripen once you've sliced into it.
- It's important to store ripe fruit tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, because cantaloupe easily absorbs the flavor of the foods around it.
This melon isn't called honey for nothing. It tastes incredibly sweet and the flesh is very juicy and tender. Honeydews are high in vitamin C. There are two different varieties, one with green flesh and one with orange flesh.
- Pick melons that feel heavy for their size and are well rounded.
- As with cantaloupes, shaking honeydews isn't a good way to gauge if they're ripe. Most honeydew melons are sold before they're ready to eat.
- To ripen, put a whole melon in a loosely closed paper bag. The fruit won't ripen once you've sliced into it.
- Store ripe fruit tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.
Watermelon is America's fruit sweetheart. Young and old alike love the sweet pink flesh and children always seem to find "fun" uses for the shiny, black seeds. Watermelon is so juicy because it's 92 percent water. The fruit is a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, and contains lycopene, a cancer-fighting carotenoid.
- Pick watermelons that feel firm and heavy, have a symmetrical pattern and are free of dents or bruises.
- Watermelons won't ripen once they've been picked.
- The underside of the melon, where it sat on the ground, should be creamy yellow, not pale green or white.
- Store cut melon in the refrigerator in a plastic container.
We'd be remiss not to mention casaba melons and Crenshaw melons, two varieties that really come into their own in the fall. Casabas are not as flavorful as other melons, but they last longer. The fragrant Crenshaw, on the other hand, tastes exquisite.
How to Eat
Fresh melon is wonderful eaten on its own and is best at room temperature. Some people squeeze lemon juice, sprinkle liqueur, or use a dash of salt on the fruit to draw out the flavor.
Melons don't have to be eaten solo. They partner well with sweet or salty foods. Blueberries and cantaloupe are a sweet match made in heaven. Italian cuisine pairs melon with prosciutto, a salt-cured ham. In Egypt and Israel, watermelon is often teamed with savory feta cheese. Melons are a great addition to fruit salads, salsas, smoothies and sorbets.
You won't be melon-choly if you try these FoodFit recipes:
Country Ham with Grilled Figs and Fresh Cantaloupe
Light Cantaloupe Smoothies
Mexican Fresh Fruit Smoothie
Bill Wavrin, Rancho la Puerta, Baja, Mexico
Lobster, Mango and Corn Salad in Watermelon and Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Gregory Talmont, Opus, Naples, FL
Gale Gand, Tru, Chicago, IL
Cold Cucumber and Honeydew Melon Soup with Crab
John Ash, Fetzer Vineyards, Napa Valley, CA