Hieroglyphics dating back to 2400 b.c. show that Egyptians knew the pleasures of these sweet, perfumy fruits even then. Today there are hundreds of melon varieties, all of which belong to the gourd family, as do squash and pumpkin. In general, melons are relatively large, tough-skinned fruits with juicy flesh and plentiful seeds, either clustered in the fibrous center or, as with watermelon, more broadly scattered. The skins can range in color from creamy white to celadon green to jade green, with many variations and shades in between. Flesh colors vary similarly and include shades of salmon, cream, golden, lime-green, pink and orange. These fruits grow on one of two species of vines, one of which bears watermelon, the other of which bears three different types of melon—the European cantaloupe, the muskmelon and the winter melon (not to be confused with winter melon squash). Varieties in the category of European cantaloupe (named after Catalupo, Italy) include the charentais and the galia. Such melons are notable for their dark-green grooves—segmented markings from stem to blossom end, which make them easy to spot in the produce section. Muskmelons are also known as because of their skin, which looks like it's covered with a rough, thick netting. Melons in this category include the American cantaloupe and persian melon. They're exceedingly aromatic but, if picked before mature, never really reach their sweet and flavorful potential. Although muskmelons of one variety or another are available throughout most of the year, they're most abundant from late summer to early fall. Winter melons are so named because they mature later than the other two categories, reaching their prime in late autumn. In general, such melons (which include casaba and . Unlike other types of melon, winter melons will continue to ripen nicely off the vine if left at room temperature. Of course, to further complicate matters, there are also hybrids of more than one category, such as the crenshaw, which is a cross between the cantaloupe and the casaba. To choose a melon, use your thumb to gently press the blossom end (opposite the stem)—if it gives noticeably the melon is ripe. Melons should be heavy for their size and have a sweet aroma. Refer to each melon listing for specifics on choosing that variety. Store melons at room temperature until ready to use. Cut melon should be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days. To prepare melon, cut in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. Depending on how the melon will be used, the rind can be removed and the melon cut or scooped into balls (see melon baller). As with most fruit, the flavor of melon will be better at room temperature. Besides being used in fruit bowls and salads, melon can be made into a cold soup, added at the last minute to stir-fry dishes or added to fresh salsas. camouflage melon; charentais melon; galia melon; santa claus melon; sharlyn melon; spanish melon; watermelon.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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