A Santa Claus melon is a melon in the muskmelon family which is famous for its long shelf life. People may also hear it referred to as a “Christmas melon.” Despite the implications of these names, they are not in season in December in the Northern Hemisphere. They are sometimes available during this time of year, however, because their sturdy rinds and long shelf lives permit shipping from South America, allowing people to eat melon in the depths of winter.
At first glance, this melon looks rather like a greenish football. It is oblong in shape, with a deep green rind mottled with yellow and darker green spots. The flesh is a creamy yellow, with a mild flavor, and the rind is very thick. The closest substitute for it would be a casaba melon, another thick-rinded melon that keeps well.
Because of the rind, it can be difficult to tell when a Santa Claus melon is ripe. These melons are typically available in June through October, peaking in July. They are ripe when the rind gives slightly under pressure, and when the flower end of the melon gives easily to a gentle push. The best melons may be marked with sugar scars, indicating that the fruit is especially sweet, and they should also feel heavy for their size, indicating that they are very juicy.
If a melon is not quite ripe at the time of purchase, it can be stored at room temperature until it ripens. To slow the ripening process, it can be stored in a cold pantry, though not under refrigeration, thereby extending the shelf life. Once cut open, the melon needs to be refrigerated and eaten within five days. Like other melons, Santa Claus melons have a strong melon scent when they are cut open, which can become cloying if a cut melon is left uncovered.
There are a number of ways to use Santa Claus melon. It can be eaten plain, sliced and added to fruit salads, pureed in smoothies, creamed for melon sorbet, added to fruit punch, or wrapped in various cured meats as an appetizer. Some people find the mild flavor a little less than thrilling, but it also pairs well with a range of creamy cheeses, other fruits, and crisp white wines, making it a versatile addition to the dessert menu.