Like Halloween and Mardi Gras, there are some seasonal celebrations for which the anticipation never fades. It is indeed late July and the summer melon season is fully upon us. Melons are large and bountiful, and with a little practice and finesse they can be got home and safely stashed for days of eating enjoyment. A truly ripe melon of the musk melon variety – the one with the netting – will give off a delicious fragrance when it is ready to eat. Farmers will also tell you to look for the disc-shaped indentation at the stem end of the musk melons. This indicates that the vine came completely off the melon when it was harvested and that the melon was fully ripe. This characteristic is known as “full slip.” A musk melon that has to be cut off the vine without “slipping” off is not ready to be picked.
Musk melons include the common, popular and very round cantaloupe, as well as several other kinds of melons with varying colors of flesh. The Ogen melon is a round melon of Israeli origin that has sweet, bright green flesh. Munak Farm grows an aptly named Ambrosia melon which is very similar to a cantaloupe. You can find the slightly oval shaped Charlyn melon at Jaime Farms and dig into the delicately sweet pale white flesh of this delightful variety. And several farmers carry various types of watermelons. John Hurley of Summer harvest has been bringing small oval red fleshed watermelons to market for the past few years that can easily be consumed in one or two servings. The days of the twenty-one pound watermelons are pretty much gone by now, as more and more farmers grow melons for market consumers who have a ways to walk and many other things to buy. Small round watermelons like the Sugar Baby are more common than ever. Some melons are seedless and some have seeds – ask the farmer which is which since they are impossible to tell from the outside. Seeded watermelons are a bit more delicate as the flesh can begin to break down around the seeds in high heat, but the flavor of seeded watermelons is still unsurpassed. Watermelon seeds are consumed in many cultures, either fresh or roasted like pumpkin seeds. If you are pureeing your watermelon, just throw the seeds in with the flesh. And speaking of pureeing – try freezing your watermelon in small chunks and then blending it instead of ice cubes for a delicious margarita. The blended melon is smoother than ice and it doesn’t dilute your drink when it melts. Now that Weiser Family Farm is bringing yellow and orange watermelons to market in addition to the reds – imagine what you can whip up with these at home.
When choosing melons, pick ones that feel heavy for their size. Melons are about ninety-five percent water, and immature melons will appear dry and lack flavor. Use the smell test or the full slip test to pick a good one, or ask the farmer. For hard skinned melons like Honeydew or Honeylope, the smooth white skin will get just a little tacky when the flesh is ready to eat. Very little aroma escapes from their skins, and they do not need to pass the full slip test, so ask for help when picking out one of these varieties. Melons can be chilled for up to a few days and not lose their flavor and they can be eaten cold or at room temperature. If the seed cavity is sloshing around the melon is becoming over ripe and should be eaten right away. Melons take up a lot of room in the fridge, so it is a good idea to get out the melon baller and scoop out as much of the flesh as possible for compact storage. Melons pair well with vegetables and herbs in salads, make delicious smoothies and desserts and they are low in carbs and calories. Late July belongs to melons of all stripes and color. It’s time to go a little mad for melons.