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Many people consider summer or fall to be the peak season for melons, but there is a special variety of muskmelon that ripens in December. Because of this unusual winter ripening, it is called a Christmas melon or Santa Claus melon. Its flavor is said to be reminiscent of a very sweet honeydew melon, with a yellow-orange flesh and mottled green skin similar to a watermelon.
Christmas melon is often served at holiday meals in place of other fruit that may be out of season and less flavorful. Many countries around the world cultivate varieties of this melon in order to provide fresh fruit all year round. It is often one of the 13 traditional foods served during a French Christmas dinner, for example.
Finding a melon may require a shopping trip to higher-end grocery stores or specialized produce outlets, but the prospect of having fresh melons throughout the holiday season should be an incentive. Experts suggest looking for a vine-ripened Christmas melon if at all possible, since the added time on the vine before harvest often produces a more satisfying product. It can also be allowed to ripen on a counter-top for a few days, much like an under-ripe cantaloupe or muskmelon.
A ripe Christmas melon should have some give when pressure is applied to the blossom end. It should also be relatively heavy for its size and have a pleasant aroma. Preparing and serving a melon begins with slicing vertically through it and scooping out the seeds and pulp. The flesh can be scooped out with a melon baller, sliced into smaller wedges, or cut into manageable chunks. This melon is usually served by itself, not in a fruit compote or other mixed melon dishes.
The next time a cook finds himself looking for an interesting side dish to the traditional holiday dinner, he may want to consider offering up a fresh Christmas melon as a cold salad item or healthy dessert.