The Casaba (pronounced kah-SAH-bah) melon is a member of the Cucumis family, which includes cucumbers, along with most melons, such as the honeydew, the crenshaw, and the muskmelon. Like all members of this family, they grow on soft, hairy vines. The scientific name is Cucumis Melo.

The melon was originally cultivated thousands of years ago in Persia. It did not even reach the United States until the late 19th Century, when it was imported from Turkey, from the city of Kasaba, which lent its name to the melon. When first grown in the US, the crop was restricted to areas with a similar climate, primarily the southwestern states, due to being susceptible to mildew and rotting due to heavy rain. New hybrids have since been developed which can handle more moisture, greatly expanding the growing area - most casabas are now grown in California.

Casabas are winter melons, like the honeydew and crenshaw, meaning they ripen over a long period, and reach full ripeness late in the year. They can be found between July and December, but the late fall is the best time to find good ones. A fully ripe melon usually weighs between 4 to 8 pounds, and has the coloring is in the pale yellow to gold range. The melon's surface is ridged and wrinkled if ripened on the vine, and smoother if picked early and ripened.

The flesh of the melon is a creamy greenish color, very juicy, and only lightly sweet. It is possible to detect hints of cucumber in the flavor.

Growing:

Casabas do best in areas with at least 5 full months of summer. If you live in an area with a shorter season, you still have a chance to grow them. You'll want to give the plants a head start, by starting seedlings indoors about 3 to 4 weeks before the normal frost-free date, and planting about 2 weeks after that date - that's 5 to 6 weeks of growth before planting. You'll also want to use a clear plastic mulch for the vines, as it traps more heat than standard black plastic, and helps the vines to grow thickly.

The vines should be planted in a sunny location - planting near a heat-reflecting wall is also great, as they enjoy hot weather and thrive in it. Seeds or seedlings should be located at least a foot apart from each other, and covered with bottomless plastic jugs to protect the seedlings from any last frost and pickleworms. If the temperature gets quite warm, remove the caps from the jugs to allow heat release.

Melons need plenty of drainage, so they are best grown in beds that are at least 5 to 6 feet wide, and sloped to avoid forming muddy pools that can cause the fruit to rot.

Casabas can be picked once they're a few days away from ripening, as the fruit does not need to be on the vine to ripen. Leave a couple inches of the stem attached to the melon to assist with ripening. Don't wash the melon until you're ready to use it.

To check if ripe, wiggle the stem. It should come right off, and leave a disk-shaped concavity. This is called the "full-slip" stage, and indicates the peak of ripeness.

Selection:

Unlike most other melons, a fully ripe casaba does not have any aroma, so smelling it is of little value.

First, the appearance. It should be a farly large size - though not as large as a watermelon. The rind should be pale yellow to golden, and a little green may show around the wrinkles. If there is too much green, the melon is unripe. The Casaba can be ripened after being picked, if left out at room temperature. If it does not ripen in 2-4 days, it is likely it will never ripen properly. Also avoid any melons with large blemishes.

Feel the melon. Near the stem should be a little soft, but soft spots anywhere else suggest a bad melon - it should feel rather firm, but not hard. The skin should feel slightly waxy. Like most melons, it should feel heavy for it's size, as the inside flesh should be dense.

A ripe casaba will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

Preparation:

Prepare a casaba similar to other melons such as the honeydew. Wash the rind with soapy water to remove any dirt or impurities that can be carried on the knife. Either halve the melon, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and fibrous pulp, or cut into smaller slices and use a knife to trim out that section. From there, either cut in wedges and eat as with watermelon, cut into cubes to eat with a fork, or break out a melon baller. The melon does have a fairly thick rind, so you'll have large amounts of inedible flesh - it is usually best to trim this off before serving.

Casaba is best served at room temperature.

Serve either as is, or with a light sprinkle of salt, ginger, or either lemon or lime juice. The melon also works well in a fruit salad, or used to make a fruit daquiri or fruit punch.

Cut casaba melon can keep about 3 days - remember, that even though a whole melon has no aroma, cut melon is very strong aromatic, and the odor can permeate other foods.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size: 1/10 fruit (164g)
Calories Per Serving: 40
% Calories from Fat: 0

Total Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 20mg
Total Carbohydrates: 10g
Dietary Fiber: Less than 1g
Protein: 1g
Vitamin A: Less than 2%
Vitamin C: 40%
Calcium: Less than 2%
Iron: 4%

Sources:
CUCUMIS, http://www.botany.com/cucumis.html
Produce Oasis, Casaba Melon, http://www.produceoasis.com/Items_folder/Fruits/Casaba.html
Food Reference Website, Casaba Melon : Kitchen & Cooking Tips, http://www.foodreference.com/html/tcasabamelon.html
Melissa's Produce, Fruit & Vegetable Information, http://www.melissas.com/catalog/index.cfm?info=Yes&Cat_ID=50&Sub_Cat_ID=99 &Cat_Name=Fruits&Sub_Cat_Name=Melons&product_ID=2449
Epicurious.com, The Food Lover's Companion, http://eat.epicurious.com/dictionary/food/index.ssf?DEF_ID=832&ISWINE=

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