Sweet Melons

Sweet Melons

(Cucumis melo) Grown since ancient times, these trailing vines yield fruit high in water and, despite their sweetness, quite low in calories. A popular finish to the meal, they are sold at roadside stalls (chilled and behind glass) as a thirst quenching snack. The main varieties are described below.

Honeydew Melon : Sought after in Japan, their fragrance is mimicked by an internationally famous green liquor. Honeydew melon is also an ingredient in a popular Singaporean dessert which includes finely diced melon, coconut milk and sago. If honeydew melon is not available, use another green-fleshed melon such as galia or ogen.

Musk melon : Closely related to the cantaloupe or rockmelon. So highly prized were they by the wealthy in India that they were brought in from Samarkand. The Japanese also enjoy this fragrant and sweetly perfumed melon. It may be identified by the cream-colored, ropey netting overlaying a skin shaded green to apricot, with or without vertical indentations marking it into segments. The orange flesh is sweetly succulent. Sometimes called netted melon or nutmeg melon, presumably because the netting resembles the lacy shroud of mace that veils the nutmeg seed.

Rockmelon : Also known as cantaloupe and musk melon. Although more common than the true musk melon, a good rockmelon can be ambrosial. When choosing a melon, look for one that is not bruised and is free of mould at the stem end. Hold the fruit to your nose and inhale. If it is sweetly perfumed, there is a good chance it will be sweet tasting. Unfortunately, with melons more than most other fruit, there are no guarantees. If you are unlucky enough to get one with little flavor, remove the seeds, peel off the skin and dice the flesh. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar and, if liked, fine slices of glace ginger. Allow to macerate at least an hour. Toss and serve, on its own or with ice-cream.

Watermelon : (Citrullus vulgaris, C.lanatus) The largest of all the sweet melons, its fruit are round or oval with an all-over light green skin, or a pale green skin with dark green veining or stripes. Believed to have originated in Africa, it would appear to have been long cultivated in India, as there is a Sanskrit name for it. What better vehicle for talented Thai and Chinese artists who hollow it out and turn it into a decorative as well as functional centerpiece. The green skin contrasts vividly with the white rind and shows off to best effect their intricate carvings. The decorated vessel is then used to serve sweet soup or fruit.

Once picked, a watermelon will not get sweeter but will, in fact, begin to slowly deteriorate and its flesh become softer. Fresh, ripe watermelon flesh should be firm and a deep shade of pink and the mature seeds black or brown, though there are varieties bred with white seeds and some with yellow flesh (sometimes called champagne melons). Choose a melon with a matt skin, rather than a shiny one.

Wherever possible, buy whole fruit, especially when traveling. Once cut, refrigerate and consume watermelon within a few days. Once the flesh takes on a red color and a shiny look it is not worth eating, nor is it once it has absorbed refrigerator odors. The white rind of watermelon may be picked or, like that of winter melon, candied.

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