Melons have been around for a long time. In fact, they’ve been around so long that the ancient Egyptians ate them! There are two categories of melons— muskmelon and watermelon. Muskmelons can have netted skin (cantaloupe) or smooth skin (honeydew).
Watermelon also comes in different varieties and sizes.
• From its outside appearance, it is extremely difficult to tell if a melon is ripe.
• Examine the spot where the melon has been resting on the ground. A yellow-white spot indicates ripeness— white or pale green suggests immaturity.
• Scratch the surface of the rind with your thumbnail. If the outer layer slips back with little resistance showing the green-white under the rind, the watermelon is ripe. Scratching unripe melons only leaves a darker depressed line.
• Choose a melon with a smooth surface, dull sheen, and well-rounded ends.
• Some experts recommend a “hollow” sound when tapped indicates ripeness. Others feel that “thumping” will not necessarily get you a ripe melon.
• Many people purchase cut melons to judge ripeness from inside appearance. The more red flesh and less white rind, the riper the melon. Watermelons like the Yellow Crimson have yellow-colored flesh and have been described as “sweeter” or more “honey” flavored than red flesh watermelon.
• White seeds usually indicate the melon was picked too early.
• Wrap melons in waxed paper or in secured plastic bags before storing in the refrigerator, as melon aroma readily mingles with other foods.
• Watermelons can be stored uncut for 2–3 weeks. Covered, cut melons will keep several days but must be refrigerated.
• Soft spots do not affect melon flavor, but decayed spots should be cut out before refrigerating.
• Wash with cool, running water before slicing. The rind may be scrubbed with a soft-bristled brush while rinsing.
Nutritionally, melons differ depending on the type. They do, however, have one thing in common—they are all 90% or more water and they are very nutritious. A six-ounce serving of cantaloupe has 100% or more of the recommended amounts of both vitamins A and C. A two-cup serving of watermelon has more iron than any other fruit serving and only has about 90 calories. It is also a good source of lycopene. A six-ounce portion of honeydew contains 410 milligrams of potassium.
Because melons are grown on the ground they are exposed to pests and microorganisms from dirt. It is very important to wash melons well before cutting them. This applies to home grown or store bought melons.
Since 1990, many people have gotten sick from eating poorly washed melons. Many of the illnesses have been caused by cantaloupes. In response to the outbreaks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its guidelines for safe melon practices. These guidelines are given below.
Before cutting melons, wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water before and after:
· handling fresh produce
· handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood
· using the bathroom
· changing diapers
· handling pets
Wash the outer surface of the melon thoroughly with cool tap water to remove surface dirt. Scrub, if necessary, with a clean produce brush.
Wash equipment and utensils that will come in contact with cut melons (cutting boards, knives, etc.) thoroughly with hot soapy water. Rinse, sanitize, and air-dry.
Sanitize kitchen sink frequently to prevent a build up of microbes.
-Mix one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart water.
-Pour the mixture onto surface or submerge into solution and let sit at least one minute.
-Rinse well with hot running water.
-For an added safety measure, counter tops can be sanitized by using the above solution mix, sanitizing sprays or wipes after they are washed with soap and water.
Cutting and Preparing Melons:
At home, it is acceptable to use your clean bare hands to touch melons for your own consumption. To protect yourself and your family, you can use plastic gloves or appropriate utensils to touch cut melons. Peel melon after washing to reduce chance of contamination from fruit surface.
After Cutting Melons:
Store cut melons in a clean container in the refrigerator at a temperature of 41° F or below. Label the container with the date. Eat cut melons within the next week. Discard after seven days. Keep track of time when cut melons are left without refrigeration. Cut melons may stay at room temperature for four hours or less. Uneaten cut melons should be thrown away at the end of four hours.
NOTE: Uncut melons do not need to be refrigerated.
Sources: University of Florida Extension, Ohio Cooperative extension
3 cups cubed, seeded watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
½ cup water
Place melon, about a half at a time, in a food processor or blender. Whirl until smooth and liquid. Pour into a medium-sized bowl and stir in lemon juice. Mix sugar and gelatin in a small saucepan; stir in water. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until the gelatin dissolves. Cool slightly; stir into melon mixture. Pour into a 9 X 9 X 2 inch cake pan. Freeze about 1½ hours until firm around edges. Spoon into a large bowl; beat until smooth. Return to pan and freeze until firm. Yield: 4 servings
Melon and Grape Medley
1 ½ cups cantaloupe balls
1 ½ cups watermelon balls
1/12 cups green grapes
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons chopped seeded jalapeno pepper
½ teaspoon grated lime peel
In a resealable bag, combine the cantaloupe, watermelon and grapes. In a small bowl, whisk the orange juice, honey and lime juice. Stir in the jalapeno and lime peel. Pour over fruit. Seal bag, removing as much air as possible. Turn to coat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with a slotted spoon. Yield: 6 servings
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached by calling 910-862-4591.