There is nothing, as far as I’m concerned, that illustrates how separated we have all become from our food as the anxiety people experience when they are facing a display of melons and trying to decide which one to buy. “Let’s see now – is it you press in on the end where the stem attached and if it goes in, it’s ripe? How far in? What about the smell? If it smells like cantaloupe than it’s good? How strong? Forget it; I’ll just buy apples.”
As illustrated in the little video, it’s actually a lot easier to choose a cantaloupe when you’re out in the field with them because you can actually push on the stem end itself and if it comes off, the ‘lope’ is ripe. If it’s really easy, then it’s ‘dead ripe’ and when you open it up, you’ll be positively knocked over by the perfume: sweet, slightly musky (which is why cantaloupes are many times called ‘musk melons’) and definitely ‘cantalope’. The flesh will be soft. Given the selections we are usually offered in the grocery store, all of this might be so different from what you are used to experiencing (really firm orange flesh, a little fragrance, sweet, but not candy sweet like watermelons) that you might think that what you have is past it’s best.
Not so, Grasshopper. This is what melons are supposed to be; we’ve just gotten used to what is commercially grown, taken out of the field early (they travel better that way) and set out for sale. When you open one of those, there will be orange flesh, some green between the orange and the outside rind. It’s edible for sure (and sometimes, surprisingly so), but not at its best.
So, if you are not out in the field, how can you choose an melon and be sure that you are getting something even close to a good cantaloupe experience?
Well, first, go to your local farmers market (and make sure the people you are dealing with actually grow their own stuff; it’s discouraging the number of places refer to themselves as ‘farmers’ markets’ and what is being sold has been brought in by a distributor. If the melons have been grown by the farm stand, then you are as close to heaven on a plate as you can. At Chez Siberia, because of our location, we have the choice of cantaloupes grown here or just over the border in Pennsylvania, which has the advantage of one USDA climate zone on us and can put cantaloupes in our farmers markets several weeks before we can. Second, choose your melon; it’s really quite easy.
First — look at it. The ‘netting’ on it should be tan. Second pick it up and sniff at the stem end. Don’t try to estimate how far you can push it in at that end – it should give a little but not a lot. Second — give that spot where the stem went in a really good sniff – it should smell like cantaloupe, not like acetone or alcohol (if so, it’s more than ‘dead ripe’). This summer, because it has been so hot, we’ve been able to eat local melons for weeks and we’ve just started to harvest our ‘oh, what the heck; we’ll throw the seeds in the garden and give it a shot’ melons this week. Yesterday, we had to harvest three of them (they were at the ‘full slip’ stage on the stem ends; it would not help the melons to leave them in the garden any longer).
So, what to do with three cantaloupes? Well, you can put them in the fridge and they will keep for several days that way, but they won’t get any better – just colder. So, I cut the orange flesh into chunks, put it out on cookie sheets, froze it and put it into ziplock™ bags so that we can have the taste of summer this winter. We still have several melons out in the garden, so I’ll get my melon on my plate yet.