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Melon marvels: honeydew soup, cayenne crenshaw, skewered cantaloupe ... simple but surprising ways to enjoy the Western bounty at its peak.

Melon Marvels Heneydew soup, cayenne crenshaw, skerewed cantaloupe ... simple but surprising ways to enjoy the Western bounty at its peak The West is melon country. Its irrigated valleys and deserts provide the hot, dry climate ideal for growing them. More than two-thirds of all melons grown commercially in this country are raised here. Westerners also enjoy the greatest profusion of varieties available anywhere, especially this month--peak melon season. Last summer we sampled and evaluated the 20 melon varieties shown on pages 72 and 73. They vary in flavor from faintly cucuber-like to intensely sweet, from crisp and firm to buttery soft. Here we tell you how to buy and use the 10 main varieties, and describe 10 more unusual specialty melons.

On page 73, we specify some flavor pairings that work well for simple presentations. Recipes beginning on page 142 are designed to show melons' versatility. But first you'll want to shop for the best-tasting melons you can find. There are no infalliable rules that guarantee the one you select will be perfectly ripe, sweet, and juicy. But when you recognize the qualities that typify a good melon, you significantly improve your luck.

Many melons are sold firm-ripe and, for best flavor, need to stand a few days at room temperature. Whole melons ripen faster inside a loosely closed paper bag. Once cut, they won't get any riper. Refrigerate cut or fully ripe whole melons; enclose in a plastic bag or plastic wrap (the ethylene gas they give off can damage other produce in the refrigerator). If a melon rattles slightly when shaken, it may be extra sweet--but more likely, it's overripe and will taste soured.

Market melons and specialty melons

In addition to the following primary market melons, you're apt to discover others, especially if you shop at farmers' markets and roadside stands. Many growers are experimenting with melon seeds from other countries.

Of special interest are the French Afternoon and similar Charentais; both should be intensely sweet. A third melon, French Breakfast, is less sweet, and crisp like a honeydew. Two interesting varieties from Israel are the Ha-Ogen, which has a light sweetness, and the Galia, which can be bitingly sweet with a powerful aroma.


A good one has rich, musky-sweet flavor, with a touch of tartness. It might be any of several look-alike varieties. Increasingly, they are hybrids, which tend to grow larger and ripen more uniformly. Some, such as Topscore, are used mainly to provide better-quality fruit early and late in the season. Others, like Ambrosia, have a unique extra-sweet flavor; Saticoy is named for a town in Southern California and grows especially well in that area.

Selection. Look for a smooth, depressed scar on the stem end, indicating the melon was mature when picked and will ripen properly. Good signs of sweetness are a thick, pronounced netting covering the surface, and a couple of tiny cracks near the stem end. The best cantaloupes measure 5 inches or more in diameter, are slightly oval, and have a yellow or golden background color. Avoid almost-round, lopsided, mottled, or bruised fruit and those with a dark green background color. Most cantaloupes are harvested at the hard-ripe stage and need to stand for two to three days at room temperature to soften, become juicy, and develop melon aroma. An exception is Ambrosia, which should be refrigerated immediately and used within two or three days.


The standard Golden Beauty variety has soft, smooth-textured flesh and a hard rind. A ripe one is juicy, with subtle sweetness.

Selection. When ripe, it should be golden yellow all over, though the stem end may have a greenish cast. Casabas have no aroma. The best are picked ripe, ready to eat when you buy them--it's usually a reliable melon to buy as a cut portion. Whole, they keep well up to about a month stored in a cool place.


A good one is very juicy and has a delicate sweet taste and mildly spicy aroma. The meat may be light to bright salmon pink.

Selection. Look for one that is medium to bright yellow all over with a stem about 1 inch long. The surface should feel slightly sticky, and the blossom end (opposite stem) should give slightly when lightly pressed. For best flavor, select one that weighs at least 5 pounds.

Most Crenshaws are harvested within three to four days of being ready to eat. On a fully ripe melon, the blossom end has a fruity aroma. Crenshaws are very perishable and bruise easily; avoid any with sunken, water-soaked areas. Chill ripe melons; use in about three days.

GREEN HONEYDEW A good ripe one is very juicy, has honeylike sweetness and smooth, crisp texture.

Selection. A melon with mostly white rind (no more than a trace of green color) that feels slightly waxy should ripen fully in two to three days at room temperature. It's ready to eat when the rind is a creamy color, the blossom end feels soft when pressed, the surface is waxy, and the honeydew aroma is pronounced. Melons weighing 5 or more pounds are the meatiest and have the best eating quality.


This popular small melon and one called Honeyloupe have quite a bit of cantaloupe bred into them. The flesh color, taste, texture, and aroma resemble cantaloupe more than honeydew.

Selection. Rind color changes from almost white to a light salmon orange when these melons are ripe. Also judge their ripeness by the waxy feel of the surface, like regular honeydew.


Ripe melons are very sweet, with delicate nectar-like flavor and pleasant fragrance. The flesh is juicy, with nice crispness.

Selection. This melon is ripe as soon as it becomes bright yellow all over; avoid pale yellow ones. Harvesting can be tricky, as they quickly turn from ripe to overripe, and their rinds remain hard even when the flesh is soft and mushy. A perfectly ripe one should keep well in the refrigerator for one to two weeks. One weighing 4 to 5 pounds is a good size.


It looks something like a large cantaloupe, but the flesh is denser and has a more buttery texture. A good ripe one is sweet, with a distinctive aromatic quality. Because it's difficult to grow them well, Persian melons are in fairly short supply.

Selection. Because these fragile melons bruise easily, they're sometimes picked immature. For best flavor, the color of the rind (beneath the fine netting) should be turning from grayish green to bronze; some say it should be 30 to 50 percent bronze. Ideal size is 5 or more pounds.


The flesh is firm, juicy, quite crisp, and not as sweet as that of most other melons. In Italy, where it originated, it's classic combined with meats like prosciutto.

Selection. Judge ripeness by the yellow color of the stripes in this melon's hard, thick shell; the brighter the yellow, the riper and more flavorful the melon should be. The green stripe should be dark and shiny. For best flavor, choose one that weighs at least 5 pounds.


A fully ripe melon tastes rich and sweet, with perfumy overtones. It's juicy and has creamy, soft flesh that's good eating all the way to the rind.

Selection. They're tricky to harvest at just the right stage, for they turn rather quickly from ripe to overripe. Look for one that's 50 to 100 percent orange color beneath the fine netting. Melons are fully ripe when all orange, but some prefer them sooner, when not quite as sweet. If soft, or if you can hear the seeds rattle when melon is shaken, it's too ripe.


Sweetness and firm, crisp flesh are the qualities to look for in any watermelon, from the popular large, red-fleshed varieties such as Calsweet to the more unusual round seedless (they have immature white seeds) varieties such as red Triplesweet and yellow Orchid Sweet.

Selection. It's difficult to judge the maturity of a watermelon without plugging or cutting it. Usually dependable signs are symmetrical shape and a velvety bloom (dull rather than shiny surface). The underside (where melon rested on the ground) is yellowish or beginning to turn from white por pale green to cream. Watermelons won't get any riper or sweeter once picked.

You can judge a cut melon more easily. It should have fresh, firm texture and bright color. Seeds can vary from white to brown or black or be almost nonexistent, but if they're fully mature and hard, it's usually a good sign. Melons with flesh that looks dry, mealy, or watery and stringy are usually overripe or old.

Exceptional flavor combinations

Delicious with all the melons are prosciutto and dry salami; orange-flavored and hazelnut liqueurs; lemon and lime peel and juice; candied ginger, if used with discretion (too much overpowers); mint; and hot chili seasonings. Barbucued lamb and pork with spicy marinades: good with all but Crenshaw, Sharlyn, and watermelon. Italian sausages: least successful with casaba and Crenshaw. Pastrami: good with all but casaba and orange honeydew. Canadian bacon: especially good with cantaloupe, Persian, Santa Claus, Jaune Canari, watermelon. Smoked trout; intriguing with all but casaba and Crenshaw. Smoked chicken: very good with all but casaba. Orange peel and juice: complements all but casaba and honeydew. Almond liqueur: best with cantaloupe, orange honeydew, Jaune Canari, Sharlyn, and watermelon. Black raspberry and red currant liqueurs: good with all but casaba. Cherry liqueur (kirsch): lightly used, good with all but casaba, honeydew, and Persian. Rum: very good with orange honeydew, Jaune Canari, Persian, Santa Claus, Sharlyn, and watermelon. Port: good with all but casaba, Crenshaw, honeydew, and watermelon. Blue cheeses: use with a delicate touch with all but cantaloupe, casaba, and orange honeydew. Chevre cheese: use with all but casaba, Crenshaw, orange honeydew, Persian.
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Date:Aug 1, 1985
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