See also watermelon.
These large, sweet, perfumy fruits belong to the gourd family, along with squash and pumpkins. They can be divided into two broad categories: watermelon and muskmelon (which we'll discuss here). Muskmelons have a refreshingly exotic flavor and aroma, and are favored for fruity salads, chilled soups and simply slicing and eating.
It's said that Roman emperor Tiberius was so fond of melons that he built the world's first greenhouses so he could enjoy the fruit year-round. Centuries later, Christopher Columbus made sure he would have melons too. He first planted the fruit in the New World on March 29, 1494, an event he considered important enough to note in the record of his expedition.
The two main varieties of muskmelons are characterized by those with netted skins and those with smooth skins.
Netted melons include:
Cantaloupe—Ivory to light green surface with sweet, juicy, orange-colored flesh. (Also known as nutmeg, netted or rockmelon.)
Persian Melon—Larger than the cantaloupe, with green rind and very sweet, salmon-colored flesh.
Santa Claus Melon—Long and oval in shape, with splotchy green and yellow skin. The yellow-green flesh looks and tastes similar to honeydew.
Smooth-skinned melons include:
Honeydew—Slightly oval with a creamy yellow rind and juicy-sweet, pale green flesh.
Casaba—Large and round with a thick, furrowed, yellow rind. The cream-colored flesh is extremely juicy with a distinctive, yet mild cucumber-like taste.
Crenshaw—Large, with a rounded oval shape that's slightly pointed at the stem end. The rind is golden-green and the salmon-orange flesh is considered one of the most sweetly succulent.
Muskmelons of one variety or another are usually available throughout the year, but they're most abundant from late summer to early fall. Choose melons that are heavy for their size, avoiding those that are soft or shriveled. Ripe muskmelons will give slightly when pressed at the blossom end, and their odor will be sweet and perfumy.
This is important because melons picked before maturity will never reach their full flavor potential. To check if a melon was picked before its prime, inspect the perimeter of the crater at the stem end. If it has jagged edges, the melon was picked from the vine before it was ready.
Whole, ripe melons may be refrigerated for up to five days. Cut melon should be sealed in a plastic bag, refrigerated and used within three days. Make sure cut melon is stored airtight, as it easily absorbs other food odors (and spreads its odor to other foods, too).
Slightly underripe melons can be kept at room temperature.
View BigOven's melon recipes