Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

Summer Melons: Nature's Refresher


After a hot and humid day, that first bite out of a cold, ruby red watermelon is like no other. Instant refreshment to chase away the heat. Melons are some of nature’s sweetest treats. Fresh, sun-ripened melons capture the taste the summer. A slice of ice cold watermelon, half a cantaloupe or a piece of honeydew; lightly chilled and ready to scoop and enjoy are part of the fun of summertime. Watermelons, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe are the three most common and loved melons in the United States. These melons are mostly consumed during the summer months. The average American consumer eats about 27 pounds of melons each year, which puts them high on our list of favorite fruits.
Did you know that melons are in the same family as cucumbers and squash? They are all members of the gourd family. Because they are luscious, sweet, and juicy they are considered a fruit and not a vegetable with each having its own individual personality and appeal. Melons are the perfect summer beat-the-heat food because of the large amounts of water they contain. Water helps thin the blood which means your body doesn’t have to work as hard to make the blood flow through your veins. So even if you’re not a big fan of drinking water, just eating these watery melons will do so much to help you stay cool. Feeding your kids melons is a great way to keep them hydrated this summer.
The watermelon is undoubtedly the most favorite of the summer melons. There are four main varieties of watermelon: all sweet, ice-box, seedless, and yellow flesh. Watermelons vary in taste and color depending on the variety, the soil and the climate they’re grown in. They come in various shapes from round to oval to oblong. They range in size from about five to forty pounds. The outside of a watermelon can vary from light to very dark green. It can be solid to mottled green or striped. The inside flesh can be dark red to bright red to reddish pink with many variations and even have yellow flesh. Most watermelons have seeds, but there are also seedless varieties. Some think that seeds are part of the fun of eating a watermelon while others prefer seedless varieties which are easier to eat and safer for small children. They also require less prep time when using them in a fruit salad or other recipes.
Choosing a watermelon at the peak of perfection requires some skill. First, look for one that’s firm and free of bruises. A ripe watermelon will feel heavy for its size. Melons are 90% water so the ones that seem heavy for the size are going to be the juiciest watermelons. When a watermelon is ripe, the spot where it laid on the ground while growing will be a creamy yellow color rather than white or pale green. Thumping a ripe watermelon with your finger will produce a rather dull, hollow tone. Thumping an un-ripened melon will create a clear tinging sound. Watermelons are best chilled before eating. Chilling gives you the most mouth-watering refreshing taste, but if you’re short on refrigerator space, whole melons will keep at room temperature for about 7 to 10 days. After the watermelon is cut, store it in the refrigerator. These melons are not freezer friendly because they become mushy and lose their flavor. They are full of vitamin C, and they’re also a good source of vitamin A, potassium and fiber. Also, they contain high amounts of lycopene, a substance that can prevent heart diseases and some cancers, and that is something we should all be happy about.
Cantaloupes are also called muskmelons. Some varieties have smooth rinds, but the most popular and nutritious varieties have orange flesh beneath heavily netted rinds. To pick a ready to eat cantaloupe, check the spot where it was removed from the vine. In a ripen melon, it will be slightly indented and scarred. The end opposite the stem should give slightly when pressed. The best sign of ripeness is a distinctive sweet melon smell. Though the amount and deepness of netting on the skin color varies according to the variety of the cantaloupe, unripe melons will have a distinct green color below the netting. Avoid cantaloupes with shriveled, bruised or cracked areas. Whole melons with greenish areas or unyielding firmness can be stored on the countertop to ripen. Fully ripe melons or cut cantaloupes should be stored in the refrigerator. Cantaloupes are packed with nutrition. Half of a cantaloupe only has a whopping 80 to 90 calories. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and folate.
Ripe honeydew melons have smooth, creamy yellow to very pale green skin. These melons have smooth rinds over white or green flesh. A ripe honeydew melon will feel heavy for its size. Its blossom end will be slightly soft and have a melon aroma. Avoid green honeydew melons and those with pitted, shriveled, or cracked areas. As with the other melons, whole honeydews can be stored on the counter to continue to ripen. As with the other melons, the honeydew is a great source of nutrition. However, of the three melons, the honeydew has the least amount of health benefits compared to the other melons. A quarter of a honeydew melon is a great source of vitamin C with only about 25 calories in an average serving of a quarter melon. We could all use a little extra vitamin C.
Whichever of these melons is your favorite, there is certainly good reason to indulge. Whether you are growing these in your own garden or purchasing these from a local farm, summer offers up the sweetest bounty. They are fantastic in an array of recipes or just plain on their own. A good sprinkling of sea salt on a slice of melon is absolute perfection. Melons are a very versatile fruit as far as how you can prepare them. They are perfect as a refreshing ingredient in many recipes whether it be an appetizer, drink, side dish, main entree or dessert. We all eat with our eyes, and these colorful melons are certainly like eating a rainbow.