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Sarah Waldman

8.1.18

The Honeydew List

Here’s the thing about melon – it is always good. Big, thick-cut wedges of watermelon are the first things to vanish from our barbecue spreads. And if our boys see a newly acquired honeydew or cantaloupe ripening on the kitchen counter, I either have to slice it up immediately or hide it to allow the fruit to ripen without constant poking, prodding, and inquiring about when it will be ready. I’ve started to store our melons in the laundry room, a space our kids rarely visit, then joyfully present them like a summer magician when the opportunity is right. Let me tell you, if you need to stop a sibling bickering match or distract a four-year-old, just whip out a perfect melon.

August is melon season – hot, sticky, and thirst quenching. Similar to other high-summer produce like tomatoes and cucumbers, melons are extremely hydrating as they are almost all water. It makes perfect sense that fruits and vegetables able to hydrate our bodies would grow during this time of year, but that fact never ceases to impress me.

Here’s another thing about melons: you can do a lot with them – a lot more than slicing them into wedges. You can add them to savory salads; turn them into soup; blend them into punch or margaritas; combine them with lime juice, coconut water, and a touch of sugar to make popsicles. You can even pickle the rinds.

Melons are being harvested now, so let’s start with how to pick a perfect melon and how best to store it at home. When shopping for summer melons, you can learn a lot by using your nose. Most of the smaller melon varieties, such as cantaloupe, are fragrant when ripe and ready. If it smells sweet and earthy, it’s good to go. Another way to test is to tap the skin with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, it’s ripe. Of course, always pass on melons that have squishy spots or are leaking juice.

At home, keep whole, uncut melons on the counter (or in the laundry room) – they’ll ripen quicker. If the melon is ripe but you’re not ready to eat it, prepare it by slicing off the skin, scooping out any seeds, and cutting it up. Store the chunks in an airtight container in the fridge where it will keep for a few days.

While researching for this article, I discovered some very interesting (a.k.a. unappealing) melon recipes published before the less-is-more approach to seasonal produce became popular. A 1968 Bon Appétit magazine issue suggests readers serve elbow macaroni and cheese in a hollowed out cantaloupe. The New York Times published a recipe for chicken in a watermelon that, besides being downright bizarre, sounds incredibly difficult. 

I suggest you don’t overthink it. Start with recipes that you already love to eat in the summer, such as panzanella salad, garden salsas, or refreshing fruit salads, and find a way to work melon into the ingredient list. All varieties of melon make delicious salads, especially if you consider adding shaved fennel, bitter greens (radicchio and frisée are my favorites), nuts, jicama, and lime. These types of crunchy and bright salads are especially satisfying when it is too hot to cook. You could even go one step further and prepare a watermelon gazpacho to go along with it.

I understand the appeal of pairing cantaloupe and prosciutto – the color combination alone is worth it – but I think all rich meats can benefit from a fresh, sweet hit of melon. My favorite way to complement rich foods like pan-fried chicken, pork tacos, and grilled steak is to make a fresh fruit salsa. I’m sharing a great recipe for Grilled Skirt Steak with Honeydew Salsa here, but you should match your favorite meat with your favorite melon.

Just don’t delay. Unlike other August fruits like raspberries and peaches, melon really can’t be frozen and preserved to enjoy later in the year – the texture doesn’t hold up. Maybe melon’s fleeting season is what makes it a summer icon. It is printed on canvas totes, toddler bathing suits, and beach towels. Whatever the case, melon is always good and deserves a little more attention.

The following recipe was originally published along with this article:

Grilled Skirt Steak with Honeydew Salsa