What a Melon!

Summertime is quickly passing by but you can hold on to some of the luscious tastes of summer by incorporating melons into your meals. Peak melon flavor will last into September and October so make the most of these succulent fruits in appetizers and desserts.

There are countless varieties of melons, ranging in size from the tiny horned melon to huge 150-pound watermelons so large they will feed an extended family picnic!

Melons are the edible fruits that belong to the gourd and squash family and are divided into two categories: muskmelon and watermelon. Melons have been enjoyed for thousands of years in many countries and are thought to have originated in Persia.

Muskmelons include such varieties as cantaloupes, honeydew and galia melons. Muskmelon varieties have either netted skin, like cantaloupes, or smooth skin, like honeydew and casaba melons. Other muskmelons include Spanish, Persian, winter and Crenshaw varieties. All muskmelons contain seeds and have a hollow center with fibrous material.

Because melons are highly perishable, growers pick them early, sometimes making it difficult to choose a flavorful one. Choose melons that are heavy for their size and free of bruises. If a shriveled stem is still attached, it was picked too soon. When ripe melons are picked, the stem falls off easily, leaving a small, clean depression. After checking the stem end, flip the melon over and check the blossom end. It should be fragrant and yield a bit when pressed.

A melon’s ripeness can also be detected by a delicate aroma, or by tapping it lightly for a hollow sound. Store melons in the refrigerator once they have ripened. After you have cut open a melon, keep it tightly covered in plastic.

Always wash melon’s rind in warm soapy water before cutting to get rid of any bacteria on the rind that might be carried inside by the knife blade when cutting open the melon. Remove all seeds and strings before serving.

Cantaloupes are among the most popular because they’re easy to select and very sweet. Ripe cantaloupes have dull yellow backgrounds below the bumpy netting. Honeydew melons can have either green or orange flesh. Perfectly ripe honeydew will yield just a bit to pressure at the blossom end and have a smooth, velvety rind.

Canary melons have bright yellow rinds and light green flesh that blends towards orange in the center of the melon. They should be heavy and have a distinct aroma. They’re in season in the fall.

Casaba melons aren’t as flavorful as other melons, but they have a fairly long shelf life. Persian melons look similar to cantaloupes but are larger. They have excellent flavor when allowed to ripen on the vine but mediocre when picked early.

The large, popular Crenshaw melon is a cross between Persian and Casaba melons. Its shape is more oval than round, and it may even be slightly pointed at one end. The rinds come in two colors: bright yellow and creamy white. The yellow ones are sweeter and taste better. You can buy Crenshaw melons while they’re still a little under-ripe and let them sit on the countertop for a few days.

Summer Melon Salad

  • 1 medium cantaloupe
  • 1 small honeydew
  • 2 mangoes

For the Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Peel and slice both melons into long thin ribbons. This can easily be accomplished using a mandoline or slicer. Peel and cube mangoes. Place all the cut fruit in a large bowl.

Combine sugar, lime juice, pineapple juice and ginger in a small bowl. Pour dressing over the fruit and toss to combine. Allow the salad to stand 10 minutes to wake up the flavors.

Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.

Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to peppermill@hamodia.com. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.