If there’s one word you learn this summer, let it be Cucurbitaceae, the Latin plant name for melons. It’s hard to say, uses plenty of vowels, and seems quite cumbersome, but it’s the term to know during melon season. There are plenty of varieties in this vast family of heavy round fruits, and each deserves your attention. But first, start with these prominent, taste-friendly family members.
Clockwise from top right:
With the most delicate rind of all the melons, the fragrant honeydew provides a beautiful pale green color and a fresh clean taste. Pairs well with other melons and is a sweeter substitute for cucumber: Think cream cheese and honeydew tea sandwiches. Look for fruit without blemishes or soft spots and a nice light green rind.
True cantaloupes are hard to find and most grocers label any orange-fleshed melon as such. No matter, any variety pairs well with slices of salty ham, sprinkled with chili powder, or used as a smoothie base. Pick out a fruit that is heavy for its size, with clean dry netting on the rind.
With its striped green rind and bright pink meat, this is perhaps the most recognizable melon in the produce section. Perfect for grilling, tossed in a salad with mint and feta, pureed for daiquiris, or pickled (rinds). Find ovals that are heavy for their size, void of cracks, with a deep green color. Some miniature melons have fewer seeds. Others come in a sunset yellow hue.
Another type of cantaloupe, Tuscan melon is much smaller with deep green grooves in the rind. With more seeds and much firmer flesh, this melon works best in marinated salads, fruit-filled ceviche, and cooked down as compote. A good fruit has clean grooves, and a firm rind.
Often mislabeled as cantaloupe, muskmelon is slightly smaller, with softer flesh. Its super sweet flavor lends well to small treats like sorbet, mingled together with acidic and milder fruits, or alongside hearty breakfasts of pancakes, toast, or omelets. Pick out this melon just like a cantaloupe, but look for a greener color.
A guide to picking the perfect melon
Local melon season is here and in order to pick out a perfect specimen, follow these simple shopping tips: no thumping or slapping required.
Skin Bumps, curves, and “scabs” are normal for melons, but avoid any lesions, cracks, or mushy spots. For muskmelons, look for a deeply set and clean netting.
Color For watermelons, look for a large discolored patch, usually pale green, yellow, or white, that’s where it rested on the ground as it grew on the vine. Do not buy a watermelon without this “field patch.” For other melons, look for deep greens, yellows, oranges, or clean creamy whites. Colors should always be rich.
Smell Every melon should smell clean and carry subtle earthy and grassy notes. For all varieties of muskmelons, the fruit should emit a sweet, lightly musky scent that gives the produce its name.
Size Every melon should feel heavy.