Next to insect repellent, sunscreen and sticky nights spent in front of a fan, nothing signifies summer more than melons. Melons are available year round, but if you really want to take advantage of these harbingers of summer then you should enjoy them over the next few months. Some of the season’s first melons are slowly creeping into farmer’s markets and grocery stores as we speak, and I don’t know about you, but I’m about to experience a full blown case of melon mania.
Melons have been cultivated for thousands of years. They’ve been recorded in Ancient Egyptian history as well as early Greek and Roman writings. Not only are they significant sources of nutrients and vitamins like A and C, but due to their tremendous water content they also quench thirst in a major way.
Melons are a part of the gourd family, which makes them related to squash and pumpkins. When it comes to melons there are then two basic categories: muskmelon and watermelon. Muskmelons include cantaloupes, honeydew, canary and Crenshaw melons. Watermelons include, well, um, watermelons! And while I am oversimplifying just a bit, there are several types of watermelons–from red and yellow to black diamond and jubilee.
Everyone has their own little secrets for choosing melons, from judging hollowness to thumps and taps. Overall appearance, texture and fragrance can also be criteria for selecting the right melon. Look for fresh, whole fruit, free from excessive bruising and dings. Melons should be heavy for their size, and if it’s too soft or mushy, send it back. And check the spot where the stem was attached; the fruit falls off the stem on its own when ripe. If it’s been cut there’s a good chance the melon didn’t have a chance to ripen properly before it was taken from the field.
Whether you’re eating a galia, sharlyn or golden dragon, it’s best to serve them slightly chilled, if solely for the refreshing summer factor. Room temperature is just fine, but I can’t think of anything better on a hot summer day than icy watermelon. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be afraid to make a mess. Considering that a watermelon is 93% water you’re bound to get wet. Go with it. Embrace it.
Because of their high water content, there’s not really a heck of a lot you can do with melons. But who’s complaining? Sometimes the best ways are the easiest. Or is that sometimes the easiest way is the best?
• For the perfect summer drink add crushed ice, chopped frozen honeydew and a few drizzles of honey. Serve immediately.
• Make a simple syrup of sugar, water, ginger and mint; once cooled drizzle over cut cantaloupe and watermelon.
• Drizzle balsamic reduction over cubed yellow and red watermelon chunks.
• Add fresh sliced fennel to watermelon chunks and dress with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.