Melons are members of the cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers, summer squash and winter squash. Like these fruits, they grow on a trailing vine, with melons requiring a lot of warmth along with plenty of sunshine to grow.
Melons are large, hard-skinned fruits with sweet, juicy flesh. Many melons originated in the Middle East and gradually spread its popularity across Europe. The sweet melons familiar to us today were unknown in ancient times, similar fruits were grown but they were more similar to the cucumber. The first reference to truly sweet and aromatic melons was not until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a result of hybridization.
Cantaloupe or Netted melons are summer melons. Winter melons, which are more oblong in shape and have a longer storage life, include the Honeydew melon, Casaba melon, Canary melon, Galia melon and the Santa claus melon.
After picking, some melons will ripen but their sugar content does not increase. A ripe melon will give off a hollow sound when it is tapped lightly with the palm of the hand. Melons should also yield to gentle pressure at the blossom end and have a sweet scent. Choose a melon that is heavy, and avoid overly soft melons, as well as those with a strong odour or unusual colour, the chances are that they are overripe and have begun to ferment.
At room temperature it takes up to four days for melons to ripen. Melons are ethylene sensitive, so they ripen faster if stored with ethylene producing fruit such as pears or bananas. Keep uncut melons at room temperature until fully ripened, then refrigerate for up to 3-5 days.
Melons are grown on the ground, so their outer skin or rind can become contaminated. All melons should be cleaned before cutting into them, as they may harbour harmful salmonella bacteria, especially along the minor cracks and cuts. Before cutting, wash the skin well in warm soapy water to remove any potential bacteria. While you won't eat the skin, any impurities on it could be carried onto the flesh by the knife.
Melons can be cut into halves, quarters, wedges, cubes, or scooped into balls with a melon baller. To remove the seeds of a melon, just cut in half and scoop out seeds using a spoon. Cut melon should always be refrigerated, wrap tightly in clingfilm and use within 3 days. Keeping the seeds inside a cut melon will help to keep it moist. Melons always taste better if they are brought to room temperature before eating.
Melon is a good accompaniment with deli meats - prosciutto or other dried meats, also smoked fish. Melon can be puréed, or cooked and made into jam, marmalade or chutney. Add some melon to salads that contain sharp cheeses like Roquefort or Gorgonzola.
CANTALOUPE MELON ~ also called Muskmelon, Nutmeg melon and Rock melon. The cantaloupe is a large beige-coloured melon, it has a slightly oval shape and a rough texture, this is called netting. The Cantaloupe melon is named after a small town near Rome, Cantalupa, and is appreciated everywhere for its delicious juicy, sweet, orange flesh. Cantaloupe is delicious enough on its own, but it can also be added to fruit salads and smoothies, cooked or served in a fruit compote. Choose cantaloupe's that are heavy for their size, with a floral musky aroma, and thick, well-raised netting.
HONEYDEW MELON ~ are the sweetest of all the melons. Cultivated in the Middle East since ancient times, they did not appear in Europe until the late 15th or early 16th century. Perhaps the most well-known of winter melons, they are grown in glasshouses in colder climates. Popular not only for their great taste but also because they can be stored for several weeks. The White honeydew melon has a smooth white skin and a pale-green flesh, which is very sweet, with a delicate floral scent. The Golden honeydew melon has a similar shape and texture to the common honeydew. Its most obvious difference is its beautiful, bright golden-hued skin. Its flesh has an exceptional flavour and sweetness. Honeydews are best eaten raw, although they can also be baked. They are very refreshing served chilled simply on their own or in fruit salad, as a sorbet or ice cream, or in a seafood salad, they also make a great chilled soup too.
SANTA CLAUS MELON ~ is also known as the 'Christmas melon' because it peaks during the month of December. This melon is oblong in shape, with a deep thick, green rind mottled with yellow and darker green spots. The flesh is a creamy yellow, with a mild flavour. Because of the rind, it can be difficult to tell when a Santa Claus melon is ripe. The skin will have a slightly waxy feel when the melon is ripe. Santa Claus melon can be eaten plain, sliced, added to fruit salads, pureed in smoothies, or added to a fruit punch. It also can be wrapped in various cured meats as an appetizer. It pairs very well with a range of creamy cheeses and other fruits. The Santa Claus melon will keep, refrigerated, for up to two months.
CASABA MELON ~ was first cultivated in Persia thousands of years ago. Unlike the other melons, casaba melons do not have an aroma. These melons aren't as flavourful as other melons either, but they have a fairly long shelf life. The Casabas are golden yellow with greenish colouration on their wrinkled exterior, the round casaba melon, is most often pumpkin-shaped with a slight point at the stem end. The creamy-green, juicy flesh is delicately sweet, with a mild cucumber-like flavour. Use in fruit salads, drinks and for cold soups. The Casaba melon can also be carved into an attractive centerpiece.
PERSIAN MELON ~ is quite similar to the Cantaloupe, but it slightly larger in size, has a reener rind, and on the outside it has finer netting. Persian Melons are also called 'Patelquat' because they are a cross between a kumquat and a patel fruit. The melon's flesh is coral coloured, aromatic and sweet. Its texture is buttery and firm. Persian melons make a great addition to any breakfast. Just remove the seeds, cut into slices and enjoy!
GALIA MELON ~ looks like a cantaloupe on the outside and a honeydew on the inside. Its light green, smooth-textured flesh, offers a delicious, sweet flavour. Delicious eaten by itself, or for added flavour try it with a sprinkle of ginger or a squeeze of lemon juice. Galia melons add sweetness to fruit salads and in refreshing drinks, such as fruit punches and margaritas.
CHARENTAIS MELON ~ are said to be the finest melon in both taste and texture. Popular in Europe, Charentais' are especially prized in France for their rich, honeyed finish. These Grapefruit sized melons have a creamy-tan skin, with dark green slightly furrowed grooves when ripe. Be gentle with Charentais melons as their outer rind is very thin and they can bruise very easily. They have a deep orange flesh and a luscious, flowery aroma. Serve Charentais chilled on its own, or as part of a fruit salad. These amazing gourmet melons pair with a wide variety of other foods too, including savoury items. Try wrapping with cured meats, like prosciutto, or eating with feta or goat cheese. Charentais also go great with dessert wines, like port or sherry.
CANARY MELON ~ is also known as Spanish melon, Juan Canary, Jaune des Canaries and Amarillo. Canary melons vary in shape from oval to oblong. This melon is sweet and aromatic when fully ripe. The name comes from its bright yellow colour, which resembles that of the canary. The canary melon pairs very well with other melons, ginger, chillies, citrus flavours and nuts. It also makes great cold soups, as well as granitas, sorbets, and popsicles.
CRENSHAW MELON ~ is a hybrid cross between the Casaba melon and the Persian melon. The Crenshaw has a buttercup - yellow rind that is very ridged and appears wrinkled. Its dense, tender, aromatic salmon-orange flesh is incredibly sweet and offers a unique flavour that is slightly spicy. A refreshing melon for snacks, added to fruit salads, in cold fruit soups or as an edible garnish. Their lovely sweet flavour and silky texture makes them ideal for frozen treats like ice cream or sorbets too.
WATERMELON ~ is undoubtedly the most thirst quenching fruit created by nature. Watermelons vary in size and flesh colour, depending on the variety, but they all taste about the same. Picnic' melons are the largest, while 'icebox' melons are round and compact. Their skin is smooth, and can be a marbled green or dark green in colour. Its flesh, while generally red, can also be white, pink or yellow, and has a quite bland sweet flavour. They can be seeded or seedless. Seeded watermelons have dark brown or black seeds.
Historians say watermelons first grew in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. They were a source of water for thirsty traders, who began to sell the seeds in cities along the ancient Mediterranean trade routes.
Select a firm, heavy melon that is slightly waxy in appearance. Tap the watermelon lightly with the palm of your hand, a thudding sound is an indication that the fruit is full of water and ready to eat. The flesh can be sliced, cubed, or scooped into balls, threaded on skewers for fruit kebabs, added to salads, fruit platters, or pureed for sorbets. Cut a watermelon in two with a saw-tooth effect, remove the flesh with a melon baller and return the balls, along with other fresh fruit, to the empty watermelon, which serves as an original bowl.
Lots more ideas and recipes using Watermelons
MELON & PARMA HAM WITH GINGER DRESSING
Serves 6 ~ as a starter
1 Canteloupe or Charentais melon
Cut the skin off the melon, halve and scoop out the seeds and slice into slim wedges.
60g / 2oz Watercress
90g / 3oz Parma ham
1 piece stem ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp syrup - from stem ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Divide the watercress between six serving plates. Place wedges of melon on top of the watercress on each plate, and drape over the parma ham. Whisk together the ingredients for dressing and drizzle over the melon and parma ham. Serve with some Italian bread, such as ciabatta.