During the warm summer months Al tries to start every day with a bit of melon for breakfast. Since he can usually get four servings out of a single melon, he doesn't have to repeat a variety until some time in late September. Once only the preserve of cantaloupes and ice box watermelons, Maryland farmers are now producing an incredible variety of exotic and delicious melons. As Chef Jerry Pellegrino has learned, there is a lot to choose from.
Here's some melon basics: the melon world is divided into watermelons and muskmelons. The biggest difference is seeds. In a watermelon, the seeds are spread throughout the fruit. In a muskmelon, the seeds are held in a web-like structure called the placenta, in a central cavity in the melon. Each type comes in a bewildering number of varieties.
Here are a few of the most interesting muskmelons.
A newcomer to Maryland markets is the Anne Arundel melon. This smallish green skinned melon has pumpkin-like grooves running top to bottom, with pale netting over-laying the skin. Its flesh is pale green, much like the popular Honeydew melon, a stand-by in Maryland summers. A close look at the Anne Arundel may make you think of early 19th century American still-life paintings which in fact featured this shapely and beloved melon.
The cantaloupe is our most common variety. Round, covered with a web-like network, starting off green, maturing to yellowish tan, the flesh of the canteloupe is a soft orange color. The Athena variety of cantaloupe is a superior version.
The Juan Canary is a popular exotic melon. Shaped like a rugby football, it is a bright yellow color. The flesh is a pale creamy color.
The Cavailon or "French Orange" melon is an import from southern France where American tourists first encountered it. Not much bigger than a soft ball, it has the same ripening characteristics as the cantaloupe, except that it is more perfumed.
The Crenshaw melon is an elongated oval of good size and a somewhat uneven surface. Its skin is yellow-tan, and its flesh is orange. Many farmers consider it to be the "Cadillac" of melons.
Here are some tips for picking a good melon. First, as soon as the melon is picked it stops producing sugar. It is as sweet as it's ever going to get. But given time, the melon will start to soften, indicating cellular breakdown. As this happens the juice of the melon flows more freely and gives the palate the sensation of extra sweetness.
Your melon farmer will often tell you how long you should keep the melon before it is ready to eat. If you want one for immediate consumption, look for a deeper color, a soft blossom end, and an intense perfume.
Here are some melon recipes from Jerry.
1/2 cup sugar
1 whole cantaloupe, rind removed, cut into chunks
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh mint sprigs, for serving
Place the sugar, melon and lime juice in a blender. Process the mixture until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Freeze for 2 or 3 hours, and then begin the process of lightly scraping the top frozen layer with a fork. Return the pan to the freezer with the shaved ice on top. Remove a couple of hours later and continue scraping with a fork. Repeat the occasional scraping process until the entire mixture is shaved. Store, covered in plastic wrap, until serving. Serve in pretty glasses with mint.
Cantaloupe Soup with Minted Cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoons mint leaves
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. superfine sugar
½ cup mint leaves
¾ cup Prosecco
Make the soup: Place the cantaloupe, lemon juice, and zest in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the mint leaves and salt and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl, cover, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Make the basil cream: Place the cream and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set with the whisk and beat until lightly thickened. Add the basil and continue to beat until thick. Add the Prosecco to the soup right before serving. Divide evenly among four bowls and top with the cream.
1 cantaloupe, peeled and cubed
1 ½ tablespoons butter
2 dried red chilies broken in two or can use dried red chili flakes to your taste
6 cardamom pods, peeled and crushed
4 cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup blanched and sliced almonds, toasted
juice from 1/2 lemon
½ cup honey
1 cup yellow raisins
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup dried apricots, chopped rough
Crush the cardamom and cloves in a mortar and pestle and set aside. Toast almonds in a non stick pan under medium low heat and set aside.
Heat the butter in a pan under medium heat. Put in red chilies, cardamom, cloves and ginger. Fry for 30 seconds. Next add in brown sugar and almonds and mix all around for 15 seconds. Throw in cantaloupe and rest of ingredients in pan. Mix well and bring to a boil. Taste for more chili and add flakes accordingly. The chutney should be sweet but with a spicy kick at the end. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until chutney is syrupy. Puree coarsely in blender to make it spreadable.