melon (French/Danish/Norwegian/Swedish/Polish/Hebrew), Melone (German), melone/popone (Italian), melón (Spanish), meló (Catalan), melao (Portuguese), meloen (Dutch), meloni (Finnish), dynya (Russian), dinja (Serbo-Croat), pepene-galben (Romanian), pupesh (Bulgarian), pépon/pepóni (Greek), kavun/casaba (Turkish), shammam (Arabic), kharbouza (Persian/Afghanistan), kharbuja (Hindi), tian gua (Chinese), taeng thai (Thai), milon (Philippines), meron (Japanese), semangka (Indonesian)
Melons are members of the large family of gourds or pumpkins, which grow on trailing vines. There are thousands of varieties and range in size from a single portion to melons which are large enough to provide a dozen servings.
Melons are considered to be a fruit, but are often used as a vegetable. Their history and nomenclature perplex even the experts as all forms readily hybridize with each other and other family members. They must be kept apart in the field as they show a particular affinity for cucumbers.
The wild ancestors of this species seem to have been native to the region stretching from Egypt to Iran and northwest India. This fits the belief of many that the finest melons come from Afghanistan and Iran and surrounding areas.
Despite China having known the melon for at least 3,000 years, there is little clear evidence that it was the sweet melon that was eaten, but was more likely to have been the wild, bitter kind which could not be eaten raw.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the rising Arab civilization began to cultivate the melon. Writings from an agricultural writer from Andalusia (d.1145) list six kinds of melon, although none are recognized as being any of the varieties known today. He also gave dietary advice following his chapters on cucumbers and melons, stating that neither should be eaten at the same time as eggs or fish.
The first unmistakable reference that distinguished between the watermelon and the pepo (canteloupe) was by a 13th century writer. After hybrids appeared, the result was a sweeter fruit, which the Moors brought to Spain from Persia or Africa. They were then taken to Italy; and, by the 15th century, they had reached France, where they were enthusiastically received by the Avignon popes.
Melons were introduced into Europe in the 16th century, but had to be grown under glass bells, in glasshouses, or in steam-pits. Meanwhile, the melon had reached China, where it began to develop into cooking varieties, and reached the New World when Columbus took the seeds to Haiti on his second voyage. When his men had eaten the fruit and discarded the seeds, large crops appeared all over.
Melons have a very high water content, therefore, low in calories. The more orangey the flesh, the more carotenes it will contain. When purchasing, melons should be heavy for their size and give off a pleasant sweet aroma, but not smell too musky as this is a sign that they are over-ripe. The stalk end should give slightly to thumb pressure.
Melons are delicious eaten raw by themselves or with other fruits in a fruit salad, and the seeds make a good snack food.
Melons fall into two main categories: summer fruits, which include all those varieties with netted rinds; and winter melons, which have a smooth or finely ridged rind that is smooth or finely ridged.
Summer melons are also known as dessert melons. Some popular varieties include the following:
Cantaloupes, as they are called in North America,
are netted melons are named for the town of Cantalupo near Rome where they grew profusely on papal estates, the first melons to grow in Europe.
In Europe, these melons are known as musk melons or nutmeg melons, and take their name from the Romans’ habit of sprinkling the fruit with powdered musk to accentuate the flavour.
Now, musk melons are often hot-house grown. They are the most fragrant and delicious of melons, but this category of melons can vary greatly. They do have one thing in common, a network pattern on its skin which overlays and stands out from the surface.
The skins may be whitish, yellow, or green and they may, or may not, be segmented. The flesh is usually orange, and the size varies from small to quite large.
In North America, the two most important types of netted melons are known as Cantaloupe and Persian.
Although the canteloupe has a prominently raised net and is round to slightly oblong, the Persian has a less prominently raised net, with larger spaces between the net lines and a distinctive aromatic flavour.
These melons do not ripen well after being picked, but is best accomplished at room temperature. Chilling melons before eating makes them more refreshing, but does retard the flavour.
To test for ripeness, press the end opposite to the stem. If the melon is ripe, it will yield quite noticeably.
have smooth grey-green rinds and a very fragrant orange flesh.
A ripened charentais gives off a heady, delicious aroma. Most are grown around Cavaillon, in France, and are sometimes sold under this name.
When the library in the town of Cavaillon in the south of France asked the great and prolific French author, Alexandre Dumas, for a complete set of his works, he told them that they were asking for over 400 books; but he would do his best to comply, on one condition. That condition was only if they sent him an annual consignment of twelve Cavaillon melons. They did, so did he.
is a relative of the Ogen. It is a round melon, with a raised pattern of fine netting on the skin. The skin turns from green to golden as it ripens, and the fragrant flesh is green and juicy.
is named for the Israeli kibbutz where it was bred. It has a smooth pale green to yellowish skin, marked with green or orange lines which turn golden when the fruit is ripe.
Pineapple or Khoob melons
are large oval fruits that have an orangey-yellow netted skin and beautiful juicy orange flesh, which has the faint aroma of pineapple.
Winter melons are so called because they ripen slowly and are not ready until late autumn. They are elongated, and their skins can be smooth or ribbed lengthwise.
Varieties include the following:
Casaba (C. melo var. inodorus)
is a walnut-shaped melon with ridged, deep yellow skin and pale creamy flesh tinged, with pale yellow and sweet, but not intensely flavourful. Often called the honey dew, casabas are very similar to them, but vary in colour, usually have green or green and yellow skins and pale yellow flesh.
Cavaillon (melons d’hiver de Provence) is a French variety
are round melons, but pointed at the stem end, and have a smooth, dark green rind that turns golden when ripe. They have the best flavour of all the winter melons. The sweet juicy flesh is salmon-pink, with a pleasant aroma. They can weigh between four and seven pounds.
Ein d’Or is a golden melon.
Honeydew (properly Honey Dew)
is the most common and best of the winter melons. However, its name is still more flavourful than the fruit. The flesh is a pale green and usually sweet and juicy.
Piel de Sapo (“toad’s skin”)
is obviously named for its rough-ridged dark green skin and green to orange flesh.
Other melons include the following:
are not as sweet and used as other vegetable gourds are. Oil is often pressed from the seeds.
They are grown mainly in India, China, Japan, and southeast Asia. The best is an elongated variety called the pickling melon or Chekiang melon, which is grown from Thailand through southeast China to Japan.
As the name suggests, it is often pickled, as well as cooked and eaten like a vegetable. The most important of this kind is one grown in India and known as kakri.
They are very long and can be pickled. Most are used in curries.
Kiwano melon or horned melon
is also unique (see more). It cannot really be eaten as other melons as the flesh needs to be spooned out of its unusual shell. The shell is a bright yellow with stubby horns scattered all over the surface. It originated in Africa but is now grown in New Zealand and California. It is a small fruit no longer than 5 inches with a jelly-like, olive green pulp that is both sweet and sour. It contains edible seeds similar to those of a cucumber.
have a unique satiny smooth skin unlike the common melon rind. They are oval-shaped like eggplants, and the yellow skin has striking purple stripes. The finest-textured melon, it has a taste that is a mix between canteloupes, cucumbers, and pears.
(Citrullus vulgaris or Colocynthis citrullus lanatus – Family Cucurbitaceae)
pastèque (French), Wassermelone (German), cocomero (Italian), sandia (Spanish), melancia (Portuguese), vandmelon (Danish), vannmelon (Norwegian), vattenmelon (Swedish), vesimeloni/arbuusi (Finnish), arbuz (Russian/Polish), lubenica (Serbo-Croat), pepene-verde (Romanian), dinya (Bulgarian), karpouxzi/ibropepon (Greek), karpuz (Turkish), avatiah (Hebrew), battikh (Arabic), hinduwana (Persian), tarbuza (Hindi), palam (Tamil), taeng mo (Thai), semangka (Malay/Indonesian), pakwan (Philippines), xi gua (Chinese), suika (Japanese)
This melon is quite distinct from ordinary sweet melons. It also has a longer history of cultivation. Native to Africa, there were originally two species: the sweet watermelon and the bitter colocynth,
which was inedible without much processing and also used for some traditional medicines. Here, we are concentrating on the C. vulgaris species.
There are more than fifty varieties of watermelon that vary in shape from oval to round or elongated.
Surviving wall paintings show that watermelons were eaten and cultivated in Egypt well before 2000 BCE. Since they were a source of potable liquid, they were often taken on journeys, so quickly spread to other lands around the Mediterranean and as far east as India and later, China.
Despite this heritage, the Greeks and Romans do not seem to have been familiar with it until the common era. It came to a wider notice in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire through the Moorish invasion of Spain.
Popular in America, the watermelon arrived there via slaves from Africa, and reaching Brazil by 1613, and Massachusetts a short time later. American Indians and settlers alike took to growing it and improving on the quality. By 1822, sizes were approaching twenty pounds.
Today, it is not unheard of to have a specimen weigh 100 pounds. However, most are smaller and better managed by the average consumer.
Watermelons are much larger than sweet melons and have smooth, solid green or paler striped skin. Their vibrant pink or red flesh is studded with large, flat, oily seeds, which are roasted and eaten as snacks in some countries. Although commonly black, the seeds can also be white, yellow, or reddish.There are also seedless varieties.
The flesh is watery and, if chilled, very refreshing. When choosing a watermelon, pick one that is firm and evenly coloured and feels heavy. When tapped with the knuckles, the sound should be hollow.
The side on which the melon has rested should be yellowish and not white or green. Do not buy cut watermelons that show faded flesh or white seed, as these are unripe and will lack flavour.
In some places today, since the watermelon is sold by weight, some unscrupulous dealers inject additional water into them, thereby not only increasing the weight, but the probability of adding harmful microbes from polluted water. Therefore, it is wise when travelling to search for any telltale pinpricks in the skin.
Numerous cultivars exist of various shapes, colours, and sizes. Small ones are generally round. One of the best is Sugar Baby,
a dark green, sweet, early variety. “Baby” is a term for those fruits that average under ten pounds. Wild watermelons may be only be the size of an orange.
“Sugar” and “Sweet” are terms wished into many varieties rather than being a sound description of their actual flavour. One of the largest and most common watermelon is the Charleston Gray,
an elongated fruit with a pale green, marbled skin. Striped varieties are also widespread; and most have pink or red flesh, although there are some with yellow flesh, like Yellow Baby.
has a paler green skin, striped with yellow or green.
have bright yellow flesh and a more delicate flavour than the red-fleshed varieties, but they do make a striking contrast when placed with the red varieties.
Watermelons are almost always eaten raw on its own or served with other fruits in a salad. In some African countries, unripe watermelons are prepared like marrows as a vegetable dish, or the rind is pickled or candied.
is a small Indian variety used as a cooking vegetable in the same way as any gourd.
In North America, pickled watermelon peel has long been a favourite relish. A recipe was included in an 1796 book called “American Cookbook” by Amelia Simmons.
Citron (C. lanatus), is a good example of a melon used mainly for pickling purposes. Some in the southern states, liked to fry cubes of the peel cut from under the skin. In some European countries, the peel is candied. The seeds can be toasted and eaten, but discard the outer shell as you would with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.