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Foods

Melons
Why Eat It
Varieties
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Although it doesn't seem as though a honeydew melon and a Hubbard squash have much in common, the two belong to the same botanical family. Melons, squashes, and cucumbers are members of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family; they all grow on vines. Except for watermelons, all melons resemble winter squashes in structure--they have a thick flesh with a central seed-filled cavity. Watermelon bears more resemblance to a cucumber, with its seeds dispersed in a radial pattern throughout its flesh. The principal difference between melons and squashes is the way they are used. While squashes are treated as vegetables, melons are considered fruits--sweet and juicy.

Melons rank somewhere between summer and winter squashes in terms of nutritiousness. They resemble summer squashes in their high water content and low calorie count, but approach winter squashes in their nutrient value. Melons are a good source of potassium and vitamin C, and--like pumpkin or butternut squash--the orange-fleshed varieties have exceptional amounts of beta-carotene.

Varieties

Although cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew are the best-known melons, supermarkets or local farm stands may have other varieties for sale. Most of these melons are grown in the United States, but imports from Central America, New Zealand, and Chile augment domestic supplies in some seasons. California, Arizona, and Texas provide the majority of sweet melons, such as cantaloupe, Persian, and honeydew; Florida, Texas, California, and Georgia all furnish the bulk of the watermelon crop.

Cantaloupe: See "Cantaloupe."

Casaba: Pale yellow when ripe, this large melon has deep wrinkles that gather at the stem end. The flesh is white and sweet. Skin color is the best clue to ripeness when choosing a whole casaba. Unlike most other melons, it has no aroma. Season: July through December; however, casabas are at their best in the fall.

Crenshaw: A hybrid between a casaba and a Persian melon, the oblong crenshaw--which can weigh up to 10 pounds--has a buttercup yellow rind and dense salmon-colored flesh. The flavor is both sweet and spicy. Season: July through October, with the peak season occurring from August through September.

Honeydew: This large melon--averaging five to six pounds--has a creamy white or yellow-green rind that ripens to creamy yellow. The flesh is pale green, although there is a variety of honeydew that has orange flesh and a salmon-colored rind. When ripe, the honeydew is the sweetest of all the melons. Season: Year round, but they are best from June through October.

Juan Canary: As the name suggests, this melon is canary yellow when ripe. It is oblong in shape and has white flesh tinged with pink around the seed cavity. Season: July through November.

Persian: This melon resembles cantaloupe, except that it is slightly larger, the rind is greener, and the netting is finer. Season: June through November, with the peak season in August and September.

Santa Claus: Also called Christmas melon (because it peaks in December), this late-season variety resembles a small watermelon with green and gold stripes. About a foot long, it has crisp flesh, but is not as sweet as other melons. Season: September through December

Sharlyn: A sweet melon with a netted greenish-orange rind and white flesh. Sharlyn tastes like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew. Season: varies

Watermelon: There are more than 50 varieties of watermelon. Generally, they are divided into "picnic" and "ice-box" varieties. Picnic types usually weigh 12 to 50 pounds and are round, oblong, or oval shaped. Ice-box varieties--designed to fit a into refrigerator--weigh five to 10 pounds and are round or oval. Most watermelons have familiar red flesh, but there are orange- and yellow-fleshed varieties. There is little difference in taste among the three types. There are also seedless varieties (which have been in existence for about 60 years). Watermelons are about 92% water and 8% sugar. Season: March through October (although most are sold during the summer months).

Shopping

Since melons have no starch reserves to convert to sugar, they will not ripen further once they have left the vine. Growers pick melons when they are ripe but still firm, to protect them during shipping. Invariably, some melons are picked too early, so it is important to know the characteristics of a ripe melon.

Of course, if your market sells cut melons, the fruit should be perfect for immediate consumption, as it will not improve once it is cut. With cut melons, you can check the color and texture of the flesh, and smell the delectable fragrance of a ripe melon even through the tight plastic wrapping.

For whole melons, the only clue to ripeness is the condition of the rind. Furthermore, since each melon has its own characteristics, there are only a few general rules that apply to all melons. They should be regularly shaped--symmetrically round, oval, or oblong--and free of cracks, soft spots, or dark bruises. While ripe melons may be firm, slight softness is a good sign, though melons should not be spongy or "soggy." Look for a clean, smooth break at the stem end, rather than a broken bit of stem (casabas and watermelons, however, may show bits of stem).

A full, fruity fragrance is a clue to the maturity of most melons, but there may be no sweet odor if the melons have been chilled, and some melons have no aroma even when ripe. Traditional methods such as thumping and shaking are not accurate indicators of ripeness.

Casabas: Casabas may have a bit of stem still attached; choose one with a deeply furrowed rind that is golden yellow, not green.

Crenshaws: Crenshaws should be yellow, not green (although late in the season--November and December--even ripe crenshaws will show quite a bit of green). The ribbing should be light, not excessively coarse. Choose a large specimen (five pounds or more) for best flavor. When ripe, both of these melons will be a little springy at the blossom end.

Honeydews: Honeydews should be a pale, creamy yellow, not a harsh greenish white; tiny freckles on the skin are a sign of sweetness. The melon should have a soft velvety surface and the blossom end should be slightly soft and fragrant. Choose a large melon for best flavor.

Persian: Persian melons are particularly susceptible to bruising, so watch out for soft or dark patches, sunken spots, or discolored areas of rind.

Watermelons: Watermelons are sold whole, or cut into halves, quarters, or smaller pieces. Skin color ranges from deep green to gray, solid to streaked or dappled; look for a melon with a rind that is neither very shiny nor very dull, but showing a waxy "bloom." The underside should be yellowish- rather than greenish-white. If the stem is still attached, it should look dry and brown; if the stem is green, the melon was picked too soon, and if it has fallen off, the fruit may be overripe.

Cut watermelon should have dense, firm flesh that is well colored for its type, with dark seeds. White seeds are a sign of immaturity (seedless varieties may contain a few small white seeds). If the piece of melon has seeds that have begun to separate from the flesh, white streaks, or large cracks in the flesh, don't buy it.

Storage

You can improve the eating quality of firm, uncut melons by leaving them at room temperature for two to four days; the fruit will not become sweeter, but it will turn softer and juicier. If during that time the fruit has not reached its peak, it was picked immature and will not be worth eating. Once ripened (or cut), melons should be refrigerated and used within about two days. Enclose them in plastic bags to protect other produce in the refrigerator from the ethylene gas that the melons give off. Ripe melons are also very fragrant, and the aroma of a cut melon can penetrate other foods.

An uncut watermelon can, if necessary, be stored at room temperature for up to a week, but in summer, when room temperatures can be quite high, the fruit should be refrigerated or kept on ice. It takes eight to 12 hours to chill a whole watermelon thoroughly. Cut watermelon should be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for no more than four days.

Preparation

With the exception of watermelon, the preparation is the same for all melons. Simply cut the melon open and remove the seeds and strings. It can be served in many attractive ways: cut into halves, quarters, wedges or cubes; or the flesh can be scooped out with a melon baller. For the simplest, least messy way to eat it, halve the watermelon lengthwise and seed it, then cut it crosswise into wedges. Slide a knife between the rind and flesh to remove the rind; leave the wedges whole or cut each one into bite-sized pieces.

For melon rings, cut melons into thick crosswise slices, scrape out the seeds, and remove the rind, if desired.

Use a large, heavy knife to cut a whole watermelon into thick slices or wedges, or else remove the flesh with a melon baller. Seed melon chunks or balls with the tip of a knife.

Nutrition Chart

Watermelon/1 cup diced

49
Total fat (g)
0.7
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
0.8
1
Carbohydrate (g)
11
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
3
Lycopene (mg)
7.4

Honeydew/1 cup cubes

60
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
1
1
Carbohydrate (g)
16
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
17
Vitamin C (mg)
42



Date Published: 04/20/2005
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