Melons are sweet edible fruits that belong to the gourd family and are divided into two categories: muskmelon and watermelon. These fruits have been enjoyed for thousands of years in many countries and are thought to have originated in Persia.
Muskmelons have either netted skin, like cantaloupes and Christmas melons, or smooth skin, like honeydew and casabas. Other varieties include Spanish, Persian, winter, and Crenshaws. All contain seeds and have a hollow center with fibrous material. They vary in color, including shades of yellow, pale green, and orange. One variety or another is available year round, but they are most plentiful in late summer and early fall.
To determine whether a muskmelon is ripe, people should look for a slight softness at the blossom end and check for a sweet scent. To ripen a melon, it should be stored at room temperature and then keep cool until ready to use. When a cook is ready to eat it, she should cut in half and remove the seeds.
Honeydew melons are popular for use in salads, soups, desserts, and garnishes and are rich in vitamin C. This type is smooth and oval in shape and has a pale white-yellow rind and a sweet taste. Shoppers should choose a honeydew that is heavy for its size, normally weighing from 4 to 8 pounds (1.8 to 3.6 kg). To determine if a honeydew is ripe, an individual should touch it to see if the skin feels slightly wrinkled.
The true form of a cantaloupe is grown in Europe. American cantaloupes are actually muskmelons with a gray skin and juicy, orange, sweet flesh. Cooks should avoid cutting a cantaloupe until they are ready to serve it.
Other forms of muskmelons include the Christmas or Santa Claus melon. With their yellow-green splotchy skin, they are so named because they peak in December. Winter melons have a light green skin and are typically served cooked, sometimes in a soup. They taste similar to a zucchini. A casaba melon is round and yellow with deep creases and has a taste similar to a cucumber.
A Persian melon has a pale green netted skin and a sweet taste. The Crenshaw, or Cranshaw, is a sweet hybrid that has a gold-green rind and light orange flesh. Spanish melons are egg shaped, green, and ribbed, and taste similar to Crenshaws.
The varieties in the watermelon category generally have less flavor than muskmelons, and a watery consistency. They contain vitamins A and C and are eaten alone or in fruit dishes or salads. Watermelons are heavier than muskmelons, with an average weight of 15 to 35 pounds (6.8 to 15.8 kg), and are native to Africa. Some varieties are much smaller, similar in size to a cantaloupe.
The most popular choice of watermelon is green or greenish-gray and striped, with shiny black seeds. The flesh can range from white or yellow to pink or red. The seeds may also vary in color. Those referred to as seedless often contain a few small, soft seeds that are edible.
When selecting a watermelon, shoppers should look for a smooth, uniform rind and a hollow sound when slapped. The rind should be dull, rather than shiny. Cooks should store uncut fruit in the refrigerator or other cool place. Once cut, any leftovers should be snugly wrapped in plastic and used within one day.