food and wineIssue 23

In Season: Melons

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By Noel Daniel

If there’s any fruit that perfectly captures the feeling of summer, it’s a melon. Biting into a juicy watermelon on the 4th of July is a memory at least most of us have. Now that summer’s back in full force, so are the delicious melons that help beat the summer heat.

A melon is any of the many plants in the Cucurbitaceae family that have a fleshy and edible fruit. There are many different cultivars, including the Moon and Stars Watermelon and various muskmelons. And although the melons we know are typically a fruit, there are some that are considered vegetables—just to scratch the surface of how broad the family is.

Honeydew is the seafoam-colored cultivar we’re familiar with here in the states, also known as the White Antibes cultivar. China’s history with honeydews is an interesting one. For some, the honeydew is known as the Bailan melon. For others, however, it’s called the “Wallace” after a Mr. Wallace who supposedly donated melon seeds to the locals while visiting in the 1940s. It’s believed that this might be Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who’d founded a major seed company.

The cantaloupe is Honeydew’s far muskier cousin—which is why it’s sometimes called a “muskmelon.” Cantaloupe are descended from tropical plants and because of this, their growth process is started indoors to control heat as a factor as much as possible. But the struggle is all worth it for the end product: a juicy, perfectly-sweet melon. And you can thank a moldy cantaloupe in an Illinois market back in 1943 for your penicillin, which had the highest yielding strain of mold for its production. This was after searching worldwide for the best sample—way to go, Illinois!

And finally, the most thirst-quenching melon we know, the watermelon. Summer’s favorite fruit has a long history, with seeds being found at Twelfth Dynasty sites and in Tutankhamen’s tomb. By the 7th century, watermelons were being cultivated in India and by the 10th century they’d made it to China which is now the largest producer of watermelons. By 1600, watermelon was showing up in European herbals and began as a minor crop in the 17th century. And it was the Europeans who ultimately introduced the watermelon into the New World where is it now voraciously consumed on those hot, Central Valley 4th of July parties.

 


 

Watermelon Chip Ice Cream

Ingredients

 

  • 4 cups watermelon
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Slice watermelon into cubes and puree in a blender until smooth.

After pouring the watermelon puree through a sieve, set aside two cups of the juice.
Whisk together cream, half & half, and sugar in a bowl. Then add the juice to the cream mix.
Pour the mis into an ice cream maker and freeze. Add chocolate chips for the last five minutes of freezing.

 

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Melon And Prosciutto

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 1/4-inch-thick wedges of honeydew melon or cantaloupe
  • 4 thin slices of prosciutto

Directions

Stir together vinegar, minced mint, and sugar.

Let the mix stand for 30 minutes before forcing through a fine sieve over a bowl.
Cut out three wedges of your melon of choice, then drizzle each serving with the mix.
Drape prosciutto over each serving and garnish plates with the full mint sprigs.

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