Food & Cooking Tips

Tips For Buying Melons

Selection of melons for quality and flavor is difficult, challenging the skill of even the most experienced buyer. Although no absolute formula exists, considering several factors when judging a melon will increase the likelihood of success. h3. Cantaloupe (Muskmelons) Cantaloupe, generally available from May through September, are produced principally in California, Arizona, and Texas. Some are also imported early in the season. Look for: There are three major signs of full maturity. First, the stem should be gone, leaving a smooth symmetrical, shallow base called a "full slip." If all or part of the stem base remains, or if the stem scar is jagged or torn, the melon is probably not fully matured. Second, the netting, or veining, should be thick, coarse, and corky, and should stand out in bold relief over some part of the surface. Third, the skin color (ground color) between the netting should have changed from green to yellowish-buff, yellowish-gray, or pale yellow. Signs of ripeness: A cantaloupe might be mature, but not ripe. A ripe cantaloupe will have a yellowish cast to the rind, have a pleasant cantaloupe aroma, and yield slightly to light thumb pressure on the blossom end of the melon. Most cantaloupes are quite firm when freshly displayed in retail stores. While some may be ripe, most have not yet reached their best eating stage. Hold them for two to four days at room temperature to allow completion of ripening. After conditioning melons, some people like to place them in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Avoid: Overripeness is indicated by a pronounced yellow rind color, a softening over the entire rind, and soft, watery, and insipid flesh. Small bruises normally will not hurt the fruit, but large bruised areas should be avoided, since they generally cause soft, water-soaked areas underneath the rind. Mold growth on the cantaloupe (particularly in the stem-scar, or if the tissue under the mold is soft and wet) is a sign of decay. h3. Casaba This sweet, juicy melon is normally pumpkin-shaped with a very slight tendency to be pointed at the stem end. It is not netted, but has shallow, irregular furrows running from the stem end toward the blossom end. The rind is hard with light green or yellow color. The stem does not separate from the melon, and must be cut in harvesting. The casaba melon season is from July to November. Casabas are produced in California and Arizona. Look for: Ripe melons with a gold-yellow rind color and a slight softening at the blossom end. Casabas have no aroma. Avoid: Dark, sunken, water-soaked spots which indicate decay. h3. Crenshaw Its large size and distinctive shape make this melon easy to identify. It is rounded at the blossom end and tends to be pointed at the stem end. The rind is relatively smooth with only very shallow lengthwise furrowing. The flesh is pale orange, juicy, delicious, and generally considered outstanding in the melon family. Crenshaws are grown in California from July through October, with peak shipments in August and September. Look for: There are three signs of ripeness. First, the rind should be generally a deep golden yellow, sometimes with small areas having a lighter shade of yellow. Second, the surface should yield slightly to moderate pressure, particularly at the blossom end. Third, the melon should have a pleasant aroma. Avoid: Slightly sunken, water-soaked areas on the rind are signs of decay. h3. Honey Ball The honey ball melon is very similar to the honey dew melon, except that it is much smaller, very round, and slightly and irregularly netted over the surface. Use the same buying tips for this melon as for the honey dew melon. h3. Honey Dew The outstanding flavor characteristics of honey dews make them highly prized as a dessert fruit. The melon is large (4 to 8 lb.), bluntly oval in shape, and generally very smooth with only occasional traces of surface netting. The rind is firm and ranges from creamy white to creamy yellow, depending on the stage of ripeness. The stem does not separate from the fruit, and must be cut for harvesting. Honey dews are available to some extent almost all year round, due in part to imports during the winter and spring. Chief sources, however, are California, Arizona, and Texas. The most abundant supplies are available from July through October. Look for: A soft, velvety texture indicates maturity. Slight softening at the blossom end, a faint pleasant fruit aroma, and yellowish-white to creamy rind color indicate ripeness. Avoid: Dead-white or greenish-white color and a hard, smooth feel are signs of immaturity. Large, water-soaked, bruised areas are signs of injury; and cuts or punctures through the rind usually lead to decay. Small, superficial, sunken spots do not damage the melon for immediate use, but large decayed spots will. h3. Persian Persian melons resemble cantaloupe, but are more nearly round, have finer netting, and are about the same size as honey dews. The flesh is thick, fine-textured, and orange-colored. Grown primarily in California, they are available in fair supply in August and September. Look for: The same quality and ripeness factors listed for cantaloupe apply to Persian melons. h3. Watermelons Although watermelons are available to some degree from early May through September, peak supplies come in June, July, and August. Judging the quality of a watermelon is very difficult unless it is cut in half or quartered. Look for: Firm, juicy flesh with good, red color free from white streaks, and dark brown or black seeds. Seedless watermelons often contain small white, immature seeds, which are normal for this type. Avoid: Melons with pale-colored flesh, white streaks (or "white heart"), and whitish seeds (indicating immaturity). Dry, mealy flesh, or watery stringy flesh are signs of overmaturity or aging after harvest. When buying an uncut watermelon, here are a few appearance factors that may be helpful (though not totally reliable) in guiding you to a satisfactory selection: The watermelon surface should be relatively smooth; the rind should have a slight dullness (neither shiny nor dull); the ends of the melon should be filled out and rounded; and the underside or "belly" of the melon should have a creamy color. Courtesy of Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO, 81009