Photo © Puntarelle & Co
Melons are fruits of the Cucumis melo and closely related to the cucumber. The exception is the Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) which is a scrambling and trailing vine eaten by the Egyptians for some 5,000 years. In its wild form the Watermelon is very bitter. Here I want to talk mainly about Melons. We’ll save Watermelons for a later day.
The melon plant was cultivated in Asia and India and, by the first century, had arrived in the Mediterranean area. There are many varieties but the most common fall into two categories: ‘Summer Melons’, which appear in early summer and are highly aromatic and perishable – the Cantaloupe, Charentaise and Ogen melon are examples; and ‘Winter Melons’ which are less perfumed and keep longer – the Honeydew, for instance. The Charentais, with its smooth grey-green rind and highly aromatic dark orange flesh is arguably the best-flavoured melon of all. The Cantaloupes, also known as Muskmelons, have a creamy-white rind, sometimes streaked with yellow, and a firmer flesh which can be very sweet when they are fully ripe.
Right now, in the last few days of June, we have orange-fleshed Cantaloupes from Italy. We also have smooth-skinned Honeymoon melons, which are an early ripening variety of the Honeydew. We have plenty of thirst-quenching Watermelons from Sicily too – perfect for cooling down in this warm spell.
Good melons should seem heavy for their size and, when ripe, will be slightly soft at the stalk end. The seeds of the melon are edible. Scoop out the seeds, dry them and roast in a medium-hot oven. Melon with Bayonne or Parma Ham is a classic pairing; their sweet, perfumed flesh is a good choice for making into a water ice; try halving a melon, deseeding and filling the cavity with raspberries and a tablespoon of sweet wine, like Sauternes; make a melon and ginger jam (with sugar, lemon and preserved ginger); or a melon rind pickle (with sugar, vinegar, lemon, cinnamon and cloves) – one last mention for the Watermelon because this pickle is particularly good made with watermelon rind.