Melons are, without a doubt, amongst the most popular of summer fruits, particularly the three most common varieties, namely the watermelon, cantaloupe (also often called the rock melon) and the honeydew melon. There are a number of other types of melon as well but most of them are rather obscure and many of us would never have heard of them – unless you happen to come across one at a farmer’s market.
However, even for those who have eaten watermelon and cantaloupe in particular many times, it can feel like something of a mystery to know how to choose a melon that’s just perfect. So here are some tips that will help next time you have that task.
Have you ever seen someone knocking on a melon and wondered why on earth she was doing that? Well there are those who are convinced they can tell how ripe or otherwise the fruit inside is by the sound they hear when they knock on the outside.
However, it seems that this is somewhat subjective and unreliable because there are a variety of conflicting interpretations of the sounds. For instance, some will say a “hollow” or “tight” sound means the melon is unripe while others will say the opposite. Some say a “thick” or “solid” sound means it’s ripe – while others would claim that it’s unripe. Still others say a ripe watermelon will produce a “B-flat” sound – whatever that’s supposed to mean! Too bad if you’re tone-deaf! Maybe you’d better take a tuning-fork with you next time you go shopping for fruit and veg!
Fortunately there are more reliable means of picking out a perfect watermelon than drawing bemused stares from other shoppers while you’re trying to knock the right musical note out of it.
The first thing to go on is its appearance. It should be a nice dull dark green color. Avoid any that are shiny because that’s a sign they are under-ripe. Your “perfect match” should also be firm and symmetrical and should not have a lot of bruises or blemishes. Watch out for irregular bumps on the rind, as they could be a sign that it’s had inconsistent amounts of sunshine and water. A few minor scratches are okay because that thick rind is designed to protect the contents after all. However, a lot of major flaws on the skin obviously may mean it’s not the best melon to feast your eyes on – nor your taste buds.
Look out for what’s known as the field spot – where it’s been sun-baking on the ground when it was attached to the vine. This is the creamy yellowish area. That’s a good sign that the melon is ripe. The darker the field spot is, the longer it was ripening up on the vine and the sweeter it will be. If you can’t find a field spot or if it’s a whitish color, that’s not the melon for you. It’s been picked prematurely and it won’t be nice and ripe.
The next thing to do is pick that sucker up and check out whether it seems heavy for its size. This is definitely one time when hefty is good. How does it compare in weight to others of a similar size around it? The heavier it is in comparison to others that look similar in circumference the better it will be. That means it has a lot of water in it – and, after all, a watermelon is meant to be nice and juicy! They’re not called watermelons for nothing. You want to be able to slurp up lots of refreshing, satisfying juice on a hot summer’s day.
Cantaloupes (Rock Melons)
There are three things to keep in mind when looking for the perfect cantaloupe.
The first is its appearance. It should be a nice soft beige color. If it’s too green, leave it there. Like the watermelon, it should have a large, smooth yellowish spot where it was resting on the ground while it soaked up the sun. Sun-spots may be dangerous on humans but on a cantaloupe they are healthy and desirable. Some people may be inclined to think that big mark is a blemish, but it’s actually meant to be there and is a sign that the melon has had plenty of time to ripen before it’s been harvested.
What it should not have is any remains of its stem still attached. That is a sign it’s been removed too soon from its vine. A ripe cantaloupe will detach easily and cleanly from the vine and the blossom end will be smooth and well-rounded. Reject any melon that has part of the stem remaining.
Cantaloupes characteristically have a network of ridges around the rind. Indeed they can look a bit like they are covered in some sort of net. The best melons are those with prominent creamy ridges and without obvious bruises to the skin.
The second thing to consider is the cantaloupe’s aroma. It should have a nice strong, musky melon smell. The best place to sniff it is that small round spot on the bottom where it was joined to the stem of the vine. Unless it smells super-sweet and fragrant, it’s not the one you want to buy. If it’s too pungent, it could be over-ripe though, so rely on how pleasant and appealing it is to your senses.
The third thing to check is how it feels when you pick it up. It should be reasonably firm to the touch but not rock-hard. When you press it gently you should be able to feel it yield slightly to your touch but not too much. Any squishy spots would be an indication that it’s over-ripe.
As with watermelons, the weight is also important. Does it feel heavy for its size? Compare it to other melons around it that are a similar size. If it feels like it’s heavier than its peers, then it is a keeper.
It’s important to note that once a melon is removed from the vine it’s not going to ripen any more. So don’t buy a melon that appears to be under-ripe, thinking it will be just right in a few days. It’s not going to happen! What you see is what you get!
As with the watermelon and cantaloupe, the first thing to consider with the honeydew is its appearance. The rind should be a creamy yellow color. Look out for the one that’s the richest color. If you can see some slight webbing on it, all the better as that’s an indicator of ripeness.
The next thing to do is feel it. As with the cantaloupe, it should not have any soft, squishy spots. If it has a waxy feel that doesn’t mean it’s been dipped in wax. It’s actually a sign that it’s ripe. It means the starch in it has converted to sugar on the vine – and in this case it’s the best kind of sugar. This means you can anticipate it having a full, sweet, succulent flavor.
The third thing to consider is its aroma. As with the cantaloupe, your mission is to find a melon that has a rich, sweet smell. If it has, then the chances are good that it will taste delicious.
Finally, you need to pick it up and shake it from side to side. The purpose of this is to listen for the sound it makes when you shake it. If you can hear the seeds shaking around loosely, then that’s a good sign.
Even if you don’t hear any sound that’s fine too. But if it sounds wet, squishy and soupy when you shake it, that means it’s over-ripe and will be sour or even ready to burst – definitely not desirable. Leave it there!
Of course, with all of these melons, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting as they say. But, unless you have a friendly grocer or market vendor with a generous spirit, you won’t be able to taste-test the melon you have selected to be sure of its lusciousness. However, if you follow the above guidelines you can’t go far wrong and hopefully you’ll soon be tucking into the most superb melon your taste buds have ever had the delight of getting acquainted with.