My weekly pilgrimage to the local farmers market is always a feast for the senses, but summer’s harvest is particularly divine. As I slowly wander the busy aisles on Sunday morning, I consciously drink in the heady fragrances wafting through the air. I rarely approach market day with a firm plan, but rather opt for spontaneous inspiration based on what looks, smells, and tastes the best on any given trip.
An enticing display of perfectly sun-ripened strawberries in one booth are worthy of an immediate detour.
At a neighboring table, rows of carefully packed white and yellow flesh peaches flank small dishes brimming with juicy cut samples to help shoppers choose. I always taste before I buy. The balance of acidity and sugar content will dictate their fate in my kitchen.
But of all the temptations I will encounter today, it is the honeyed aroma of perfectly ripe melons that whispers to me like a siren’s call. Who could resist? There are firm, orange-fleshed cantaloupe, creamy honeydew, and the arguable king of summer’s crop: watermelon.
Choosing a melon isn’t difficult if you know what to look for. In fact, it simply requires putting your senses to good use.
#1: The nose knows. Trust your sense of smell. Pick up the fruit and inhale deeply. Do you smell the sweet essence of the melon? You can tell right away if you’ve got a winner. *This test works for most varieties except watermelon which have a thick rind that prevents the subtle aroma from coming through.
#2: Feel. Examine the melon. It should be firm with no cracks or bruising. Soft spots on the ends may indicate over-ripeness.
When selecting a watermelon, many people rely on the popular “thump” test which requires a good ear for nuance in sound. I prefer to look for these less subjective indicators of ripeness:
- Look at the flat underbelly of the watermelon where it rested on the ground. Is it white or buttery yellow in color? You want to see a lovely yellow sweet spot, as my mother calls it. A white spot indicates the melon was picked prematurely, and will not have good sugar content. Sugar = Flavor!
- Do you see a brown web-like pattern or dark, diamond-shaped marks that may be weeping with a little hardened sap (*see arrow)? These marks are indicators of good sugar content and should be taken as a positive sign!
If you’re still anxious about making your selection, ask the farmer to help you. They are adept at judging ripeness and are always happy to assist.
The following recipes provide simple inspiration for enjoying melons at the peak of their season. Feel free to substitute different varieties as you like. You can’t go wrong!
Watermelon Margarita (makes 2 large servings)
*Using a pre-mixed alcoholic margarita base makes preparing this drink extra easy!
2 cups cubed ripe watermelon
3/4 cup Jose Cuervo Golden Margarita Mix
10-12 ice cubes
Lime; sugar or sea salt (optional)
Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high speed until slushy. Note: If desired, coat the rim of the glass with lime juice and dip in sugar or sea salt. Pour into your favorite cocktail glass. Garnish with a decorative wedge of watermelon & serve.
Printable recipe: Watermelon Margarita.
Melon & Proscuitto
These sweet & salty appetizer bites come together in a flash!
1/2 cantaloupe or honeydew melon, seeded
4 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto (cured Italian ham)
Cut melon into wedges and remove the outer rind. Cut into bite-sized squares. Wrap with a piece of prosciutto. Secure with a cocktail skewer. Arrange artfully on small platter and serve.
Printable recipe: Melon & Prosciutto
Summer Melon Salad with Feta & Mint (serves 4)
The perfect light, refreshing salad for a hot summer day.
2 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1/2 cup non-fat feta, crumbled
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves (whole or torn in bits)
Juice of 1 lime
(optional) sea salt to taste
Combine melons, feta, and mint in a large bowl. Add lime juice and toss gently. Garnish with a couple grinds of *sea salt (optional). Serve immediately.
Printable recipe: Summer Melon Salad with Feta