Eat Well: Don't Harsh my Melons

The following post was written by my mom, WWW, who is one of the greatest melon-picker-outers in all the land. Thanks, mom!
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For the next three weeks, Babycenter compares our darling Rice and Beans to melons—cantaloupes at 34 weeks, honeydews at 35 weeks, and Crenshaw melons at 36. I am going to lump these melons together into one post, especially since I am pretty sure that the babies are the size of Crenshaw melons already. And I have a feeling these babies are coming SOON, so this might be my last food post aligned with baby size. Phew! It’s been a fun challenge and I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have!

Picking out a good ripe melon is an art. It used to be in the days of the small neighborhood grocery store, all you had to do was ask the nice produce man, who you knew by name, to pick out a great melon. He would get this very serious expression on his face and commence to feeling, smelling, thumping, and fondling a wide range of melons until his eyes would light up and present you with the perfect melon like it was a precious jewel. Or, he would say, “Mrs. Smith, I don’t think you should buy a cantaloupe this week as none of them are very good. Why don’t you try a Crenshaw? They are perfect!” The produce guy told you the truth back in the 50’s and 60’s because he would see you again in a few days and he really wanted you to be a content costumer. You were in a kind of relationship with your store in those days, and everyone wanted everyone to be happy.

When I was a child, we had a really nice produce guy, a Japanese American who had grown up on a farm and really knew fruit. He taught my mother how to pick out each type of melon so that we would have about a 95% chance of taking home a perfect specimen. She taught me the art, too, and it really makes all the difference. There is nothing more refreshing and delicious than a perfectly ripe melon but also nothing more disappointing than one that is too hard, too sour, mushy or bad tasting. And although you can get a “lemon” even when all of your intentions are good, you raise your odds considerably when you actually know what to look for. I spend some time doing all the things the produce guys used to do. It sometimes solicits some odd looks from strangers, but often the strangers ask me to pick out a melon for them, giving me great joy.

So, without further ado, here is a brief tutorial on how to pick out a perfect melon. Now YOU can be the odd one in the grocery store fondling the melons!

Cantaloupe: Cantaloupes should never be green. They should have a golden/beige skin under the textured “web.” Look for a lighter, flatter patch on one side of the melon caused by the weight of the melon as it ripened on the vine. This means the melon was vine ripened. The melon should also smell really sweet and delicious. It should give slightly to the touch, especially on the vine end. Don’t buy if it is soft all over as it will be overripe.
If you want to grow your own cantaloupe next summer, buy AMBROSIA seeds at Burpees or Parks. These cantaloupes are amazing! Keep the fruit on the vine until they fall off and they will be perfect every time. Here is a photo of one of this years’ home-grown cantaloupes.
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skin should be yellowish under the netting of the melon
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Honeydew (either green or orange): This is probably the easiest melon to get right IF you know the trick. Take your hand and feel the outside of the skin. If your hand slips (the melon is really smooth and slippery) then it isn’t ripe. If your hand catches on the skin so that it feels waxy, the melon is ripe. It should also be slightly yellow. Smell it to make sure it smells sweet and don’t get it if it is soft or it will be overripe.
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Crenshaw: This is my personal favorite melon but they are usually kind of expensive so we only have them for special treats. The end should give a little, the skin should be yellow, and they should smell sweet.

Watermelon: Watermelons can vary greatly in quality. They should have a hard outside, should be heavy when picked up (compare the relative weights), and should have a yellow mark on the bottom. It helps to thump this melon to be sure about the ripeness. It should sound hollow and make a cool sound. Don’t buy if it feels like a thud or it doesn’t vibrate with a hollow feeling. If it makes a thud, it is probably mushy. Try for fun buying two, one that makes a sharp hollow sound and one that makes a thud and compare. Until you get used to the feeling and sound, you might not know what you are looking for, so the best way to get good at this is to experiment a little.

Now…what to do with all of these delicious ripe melons. Of course, the best way to eat them is plain. I often serve a quarter of a melon with our dinner, either as a first course or as dessert. I also love to make fruit salads. My favorite combo is a mixture of ripe melons cut into healthy sized squares (I am not a fan of the melon baller), blueberries, red grapes, and halved or quartered strawberries, depending on their size. I love raspberries in the salad, too, but I layer them on top so they don’t turn to mush. I cut up my melons ahead of time and put them in separate bags, adding them together in a large bowl with the berries at the last minute so the salad doesn’t get mushy or watery.

Some people like to make their fruit into a “compote” by adding a sugar syrup (I have added a delicious one below). This is a great way to sweeten fruit that isn’t perfect. But if you pick out ripe fruit, there is no reason to add any extra sugar. The fruit will be just lovely by itself.

Here is a DELICIOUS and refreshing melon meal starter for a hot summer day, if you want to try something a little different with your perfectly ripe melons!

Golden Melon Gazpacho

1 ripe cantaloupe or similar muskmelon, peeled and seeded
½ cup light coconut milk, fresh coconut juice, or water
¼ cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground California chile or cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup peeled, seeded, ad diced cucumber
2 T chopped fresh mint, lemon balm, or lemon verbena leaves
1 teaspoon agave syrup, or to taste
lime wedges

1. Set aside about ½ cup of the melon. Roughly chop the rest. You should have about 4 cups. In a blender, puree thoroughly with the coconut milk, lime juice, ground chile, cinnamon, and salt.
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2. Cut the reserved melon into ¼ inch dice, and add it to a medium bowl along with the cucumber, 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and the agave syrup.
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3. Add the pureed fruit and taste at this point. Add more lime or agave if needed. Chilling will dull the flavor slightly.
4. Chill for at least 3 hours. Meanwhile, place 6 straight-sided tequila glasses or small shot glasses in the freezer to chill. To serve, stir the gazpacho well and ladle into chilled glasses. Sprinkle with remaining herbs and garnish with a wedge of lime perched on each glass.
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Try this watermelon salad on a hot day.(Can you tell we are having a heat wave?) It is beautiful and really yummy. I used raspberry vinaigrette, but any vinaigrette would work. You could also sprinkle toasted walnuts or pecans on top. Larry gave this salad a two thumbs up!

Watermelon and Gorgonzola Salad

Watermelon, cut into cubes
Gorgonzola or feta cheese
Red onion thinly sliced
Your favorite vinaigrette (I used raspberry)
Toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)
Lettuce

Arrange watermelon on lettuce leaves. Top with the rest of the ingredients and serve:
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And here is a great sugar syrup if you like to sweeten your fruit!

Orange and Mint Syrup
2 cups water
1 cup fresh orange juice, strained
½ cup sugar
zest of ½ orange
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

Combine the water, orange juice, and sugar in a stainless steel pot and heat it, stirring a little, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange zest and the mint leaves to the liquid, bring it to a boil, and let it boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Strain out the orange zest and mint and chill the syrup well. For a stronger flavor leave the zest and mint to steep in the syrup overnight before removing. This is delicious on white peaches or melon.

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Cheers!

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Love,
WWW

9 comments:

Glenda | 4:33 PM

love fruit...love these recipes... i can't wait to hear all about R&B. maybe you should write a blog post after they are born...from your perspective?

Nothing But Bonfires | 4:47 PM

Yay! This is my favorite WWW post ever. And since my parents live down in Encinitas and I'm down there visiting often, I'm going to keep a special eye out for the lovely WWW when I'm in the grocery store so that I can ask her to help me pick out the perfect melon.

BonJoey | 5:53 PM

AWESOME!!! Thanks so much, WWW, for the melon-picking tips! I've always wondered how to pick out perfect melons! I've never been good at it, it's always been such a mystery to me! I've asked around and (half-heartedly) tried different techniques, but never had such clear, concise instructions! Can't wait to try out your techniques! :)

Margie | 6:09 PM

Thank you so much for yet another group of delicious and unexpected recipes! I'm very excited to try out these testing methods. I too hope that this won't be the end to your guest posts!

Brandee | 6:53 PM

I've always been envious of those who knew how to properly pick out a melon. Thank you so much for sharing!!

Robyn....but call me Rob | 4:11 PM

GREAT post~!

Jack's Mama | 8:24 PM

I love the pregnancy size inspired posts, i think you should back track as they are 1 week old, etc. Whatever size they start the comparisons at.

Wendy Woolf | 7:39 AM

Jack's Mama...Good idea! I did miss a lot of weeks! :)

Sydney | 8:16 PM

Loving this post WWW. I can't wait to be the weirdo sniffing the melons in the supermarket!