For as long as I can remember, I always associated the melon with the arrival of summer. Cantaloupe would appear on the stalls of the fresh markets in France at the end of June. I remember watching my grandmother carefully selecting the one we would eat right away and those that could wait for one or two days. The melon Charentais was the one we would always look for. Later I discovered that there are many different types of melon and so many fun ways to eat it.
Thought to have originated in India, this cucurbitaceae was already cultivated in Egypt, five centuries before our era. It then crossed the Mediterranean Sea arriving in Greece, followed by Rome, around the first century.
The ancestor of our cantaloupe was small and probably not very sweet. It was prepared with pepper and vinegar, served with garum and a salad. With time, it gained in growth, savor, and sweetness. Soon, it is was no longer considered a vegetable, but a fruit. During the Renaissance, monks would cultivate it for the Pope in his summer residence of Cantaluppo, near Rome. The name Cantaloupe is given to the variety we know most, the round one, with its mouthwatering sweet orange flesh. Introduced in Europe in the 15th century, it became a popular fruit due to its sweetness. Since the end of the XVIth century, the melon is largely cultivated in the south of France. Its production reached other regions, like Anjou and Touraine, to supply the King’s court and Paris markets. It arrives in the region of Charente later on where its success is still very strong. The cantaloupe represents 80 percent of the total french production of melon.
70 Different Cultivars Exist but Here are the Main Ones:
- The most common is the cantaloupe or the so-called Melon Charentais – round with a sweet orange flesh.
- The Persian melon resembles closely a cantaloupe, except it is slightly larger and the rind is greener. Its taste is very similar to its cousin.
- The golden honeydew has a vibrant golden exterior and sweet taste.
- The sharlyn is a sweet melon with a netted greenish-orange rind and white flesh that tastes like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew.
- The Casaba is a large melon with deep wrinkles at the stem end and is pale yellow when ripe. The flesh is white and sweet.
- The Juan canary melon is bright-yellow like the canary bird and oblong in shape. It has white flesh tinged with pink.
Choosing a Melon can be Tricky. Here is How:
- It is at its best when it is ripe and its sugar level is optimal (around 12%). Some melons have a sticker teneur en sucre contrôlée, meaning that the level of sugar has been checked by the producer.
- In all cases, pick up a cantaloupe. If it feels heavy and firm, it is already a good sign. Its scent should also be strong. So next time, if you see someone, with his or her head deep into the melon stand, don’t worry. They didn’t faint. They are just selecting the perfect cantaloupe.
- Another tip is to check the stem of the melon. If it is starting to come off, it is a winner!
- The lines are also a good indicator – the more the better. If you count at least 10 “slices”, the melon will be tasty. And if they are well scarred, even better!
- A common belief is that you can allow the cantaloupe to ripen on the countertop. False! A cantaloupe does not ripen after it is picked, so once a cantaloupe is removed from the vine, it will not sweeten any further. So it is best not to let a cantaloupe sit in your kitchen for more than two or three days.
- Before serving, you can chill the cantaloupe a little bit for a more refreshing taste.
- Don’t forget to cover the cut surface of any leftover melon you have with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days.
Tips for Eating Melon:
- The seeds can not be eaten so discard them.
- It is most often eaten raw.
- Sliced, it can be served with cured ham as a starter. The sweetness of the melon compliments well the salted flavor of Serrano or Parma ham.
- Cut into cubes, it can be added to summer vegetable or fruit salads.
- Cut it in half and take out the seeds. Then pour some Port wine or Pastis into each melon cup. Let it chill for a few minutes in the fridge before serving. The juice of the melon will mix with the alcohol. Served with a spoon, it is an original starter, for adults only! For kids, you can use almond syrup or Orgeat.
- You can present the cantaloupe in a fun way, as a big salad bowl, its top and seeds removed. The base should be slightly cut so it can stand. The flesh should be taken out using a Parisian spoon to create small melon balls that you then add to your fruit salad.
- These melon balls can also be presented on a small skewer with mozzarella balls or a piece of Italian ham for fun appetizers.
- Melon is also delicious pureed and used in cold soups, ice cream, smoothies or sorbet.
- Cooked, it is wonderful with fish to add some sweetness to your dish.
Did You Know?
- Why is the cantaloupe so refreshing? Because it is made up of 90% water!
- Why is it so orange? Because of the carotene content. Like the apricot and the mango, the cantaloupe is a fruit that contains the most vitamin A, which is great for your skin, cellular growth, and has great anti-antioxidant properties. It is also a good source of vitamin C.
- Cantaloupe is sometimes called rockmelon in Australia and muskmelon in the US.
Whatever the name or variety, melon is definitely the king of summer and I fall for it year after year!