Cantaloupe and watermelon are worth their weight in benefits. One cup of cantaloupe can provide over half your vitamin C daily requirements, one-third of vitamin A needs, and a notable amount of potassium. Watermelon doesn't yield quite the same value but one cup of it contains almost one-quarter of the daily recommended intake of lycopene, the antioxidant that reportedly reduces risks of certain cancers and heart disease. (see chart)
For best flavor and texture, buy melons in late summer during their peak season - mid-June to late August for watermelons; late summer to early fall for melons. Watermelons come in varying sizes: those 15-35 pounds, called picnic melons, and smaller icebox melons, 6-15 pounds. You'll find watermelons with red, pink, yellow or orange flesh, and newer hybrids include "seedless" watermelons, with soft white edible seeds.
Muskmelons include the popular cantaloupes, honeydews, cranshaw, canary, casaba and Santa Claus. They can be split into two groups - those with smooth skins like the honeydew and those with a netted skin like the cantaloupe. They can be a bit larger than a softball to 15-pounders. Skins range from a grayish white to dark green; flesh ranges from the pale yellow to bright oranges. Unlike watermelons with seeds imbedded throughout the flesh, muskmelons have hollow centers of seeds.
Buying and storing
Tap the melon. If it's ripe, you'll hear a hollow thump sound. With watermelons, look for a symmetrical melon with no holes, scars, cracks, soft areas or large spots (although a yellow, not white, spot where the melon sat on the ground is normal). The green-striped rind should be dull rather than shiny and have an evenly balanced color. In general, with muskmelons, they should be heavy for their size and should always be fragrant when ripe. Most ripe melons in the muskmelon family are slightly soft at the blossom end and should be stored in the refrigerator until use. Precut melon wedges (of any type) should have firm, bright flesh. Keep whole melons in a cool spot; and cut pieces should be covered and refrigerated.
Slicing and dicing
Unless you're a melon lover like me, who can devour a quarter of any melon in no time, the best way to eat melons are to cut whole melons into quarters or eighths and slice them into two to three bite-sized wedges (about 1/2-inch thick), then serve them on a platter as a colorful complement to a summer meal. Let your family or friends grab as many wedges as they wish, holding them by the rind as they munch! (Cleanup of the mini-wedges is also easier.)
Although melons are rarely cooked, they convert well into refreshing drinks, salads, soups and appetizers. Try one or two of these recipes this summer, then include them as invigorating complements to outdoor meals and picnic baskets.
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nutrition in watermelon and cantaloupe
WATERMELON (1 cup)
Vitamin C 8 mg
Potassium 115 mg
Vitamin A 25 micro gr
Lycopene 7.4 mg
Other 4 mg Vitamin B6
CANTALOUPE (1 cup)
Vitamin C 59 mg
Potassium 427 mg
Vitamin A 270 micro gr
Lycopene 0 mg
Other 7.6 mg. Calcium
Watermelon Ginger Coolers (serves 6)
4 pounds red or yellow watermelon, plus extra wedges for garnish
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice ( about 10 limes) plus extra wedges for garnish
1 cup Ginger Syrup
Ginger Syrup (makes 2 cups): Place 2 cups sugar and one 6-inch piece fresh ginger (finely diced) in a medium saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook about 1 hour, until the flavor is quite strong. Let cool; strain before using. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to a week.
1. Remove rind and any seeds from watermelon. Place the flesh in a juice extractor, and process, producing 3 cups watermelon juice.
2. Transfer juice to a large pitcher. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Fill pitcher with ice. When serving, garnish glasses with watermelon and lime wedges.
Melon, Mint and Boccocini Salad (serves 4)
1-1/2 cups each, cantaloupe and watermelon (scooped into 1-inch balls with melon baller)
8 oz. bocconcini (or substitute 2 cups fresh mozzarella cut into 1-inch cubes)
2 to 3 thin slices ham or prosciutto
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup torn mint leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Combine 1 ripe cantaloupe, scooped into 1-inch balls with a melon baller (about 3 cups), 8 ounces bocconcini (small fresh-mozzarella balls) or fresh mozzarella cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups), 2 to 3 thin slices ham or prosciutto, cut into strips, and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Toss with 1/4 cup torn mint leaves. Serve immediately.
Avocado and Cantaloupe Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing (serves 4)
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
4 tsp honey
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 avocado, halved, pitted and skinned
1 cantaloupe (3 pounds), quartered and seeded
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1. Whisk together the lime juice, honey, oil and salt in a bowl; set aside.
2. Cut avocado halves again length-wise and then into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each cantaloupe quarter in half lengthwise. Slice away melon skin and discard. Slice each wedge lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces.
3. Add cantaloupe, avocado, and grape tomatoes to bowl with dressing and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates.
Honeydew/Cantaloupe Soups (serves 8)
1 cantaloupe, seeds and rind removed, cut into large chunks
1/3 cup creme fraiche or plain yogurt
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 large honeydew melon, seeds and rind removed, cut into large chunks
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Moscato d'Asti (or substitute any sparkling wine or ginger ale)
1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1. In food processor, puree cantaloupe, creme fraiche, honey, lemon juice, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
2. Rinse out food-processor bowl. In a food processor, puree honeydew, lime juice, moscato, mint, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate. Both soups can be made 24 hours in advance.
3. To serve soups, serve separately or divide three-fourths of the honeydew soup among four soup bowls, and divide three-fourths of the cantaloupe soup among four other soup bowls. Garnish each serving of honeydew soup with remaining cantaloupe soup, and each serving of cantaloupe soup with remaining honeydew soup. Serve immediately.