Cantaloupe is actually one of the easier melons to select, because of its thin skin. Watermelon, honeydew, canary melon, etc do possess a thin skin, but then have a firm layer underneath it that is mostly inedible. But the cantaloupe can be eaten nearly right up to the skin.

A good cantaloupe is a light tawny tan all over. It may have minute bits of black or brown marbling from growing, but no large patches. Any marbling should look like the melon has been splatter painted, and only be in a small area. The cantaloupe should be slightly firm all over but not have any hard spots nor mushy areas. Remember what you are feeling immediately beneath the skin is what you are going to eat. If it feels like it would hurt to bite, or if it feels slimy, you don't want to eat it. Once you have one that feels good, smell it. You should be able to smell a sweet aroma through the skin, just slightly. It will be the strongest, usually, at the 'dent' where the stem attached. It will not be a very strong smell, but if you can't smell it the fruit is probably just under-ripe. This is fine if you don't want to eat the cantaloupe for three or four days, but if you want one for breakfast tomorrow, get one that already smells ripe.

Slightly green cantaloupes will ripen up on the shelf pretty happily, and cantaloupes store in the fridge quite well, but watch them; if they get just slightly over-ripe they start to leak juice out of their very thin skin, making a sticky mess. It's best to put them in a fruit/veggie cooler, or if you must put them on a rack put them on something firm. A cantaloupe can "impale" itself on a rack, its own weight pushing the bars into the fruit, causing the aforementioned sticky mess.

To eat your now-excellent cantaloupe, if it was on the counter, put in the fridge overnight. If it was in the fridge, go you. Cantaloupe, according to most people, is far superior icy cold, tasting sweeter, less mealy and slimy, and far more refreshing. Cut in half, scoop out seeds and strings with a spoon (or cut into quarters and just cut off the string/seed part with a knife. You lose a little flesh, but in the end it's less tedious). Serve cubed, in halves or quarters (for the latter two, use a grapefruit spoon if you leave the skin on, a fork and knife if you don't.) Cantaloupe mixes very well with honeydew and canary melon. Some people like it with watermelon, many do not like the texture mix. It also mixes with strawberries or blueberries fairly well. But most standard 'fruit salad' fruits do not go well with cantaloupe, the textures and chemical composition do funny things to the other fruits and leave weird tastes and textures in any added fruit.

Enjoy your perfect cantaloupe.

History of the cantaloupe

The term "cantaloupe" is actually somewhat confusing because it refers to two different varieties of melon (Cucumis melo). Both varieties came from an ancestor that is native to the North African region. This melon was cultivated in Egypt as early as 2400 BC and spread throughout the Middle East where many different varieties of melon were created.

"True" cantaloupes are labeled as Cucumis melo var. cantaloupensis. They are smooth like honeydew melons and originated from plants grown in the town of Cantaluppi in Italy. Rumor has it they were first grown there during the fifteenth century under orders from the Pope, who had read about melons in the Bible. A century later these cantaloupes became very popular in France and were a symbol of high society. Today this true cantaloupe is far more common in Europe than in the United States.

The variety of cantaloupe mainly grown in America is Cucumis melo var. reticulatus, which is really a kind of muskmelon. These melons are larger and not as smooth as the true cantaloupes. Instead they have a rough texture on their rinds called netting. This variety was originally grown in Spain in the 1500s and was transported to America by Columbus. The melon was very popular and was grown all along the Atlantic coast from Florida to New England. A marketing ploy was responsible for renaming the muskmelons as "cantaloupes" to remind buyers of the fancy French true cantaloupes. Today these cantaloupes are grown mainly in the dry regions of California, Texas, and Arizona. The rest of this writeup deals with these "fake" cantaloupes.

Cantaloupe plants and fruit

The cantaloupe plant is a long vine with large green leaves that grows along the ground. The vine prefers regions that have warm temperatures and dry climates. Melon seeds are generally planted in March and the ripe melons are harvested during the summer. The vines produce several small white-yellow flowers that only open one morning and close forever that afternoon. Pollinated flowers develop into tiny green melons that grow and turn creamy white over the course of several months. Each vine generally produces from one to six melons. The melons are easily harvested by snapping the melon off the vine.

The cantaloupe fruit is round or slightly oblong and ranges from four to eight inches in diameter. The rind is somewhat tough, cream white in color, and has a rough, net-like texture. Inside the melon is the edible fruit from the pericarp that is bright orange or yellow. The center of the melon is hollow and holds hundreds of tiny seeds. The flesh is extremely juicy and sweet and has a distinct floral fragrance.

In the United States cantaloupes are grouped into either Eastern or Western types depending on where they were grown. Eastern cantaloupes are sutured, meaning they have lines running from the stem end to the other end of the cantaloupe. They are somewhat larger, weighting 7 to 8 pounds, while the Western types are sutureless and smaller, weighing 3 to 4 pounds. The Eastern types mature later than the Western types and they have a shorter shelf life that makes them unsuitable for shipping long distances. Major cultivars of cantaloupe in the United States include Super 45, Laguna, Earlisweet, and Harper Hybrid.

Picking and eating cantaloupes

Cantaloupes can generally be found in most supermarkets year-round, however they are best when they are in season during the summer months. Since there are other, better writeups on how to pick ripe cantaloupes, I direct you to Wuukiee's writeup here as well as the How to choose fresh fruit node.

Cantaloupes can be stored at room temperature for several days to help soften the fruit. The melons can be stored for longer periods of time in the fridge. There is a bit of controversy on whether to eat cantaloupe at room temperature or chilled. I prefer eating the melon at ambient temperatures for the most melon fragrance and flavor. Cantaloupes are great eaten out of the rind, in fruit salads, or with a wrapping of fresh prosciutto.

Can"ta*loupe (?), n. [F. cantaloup, It. cantalupo, so called from the caste of Cantalupo, in the Marca d'Ancona, in Italy, where they were first grown in Europe, from seed said to have been imported from Armenia.]

A muskmelon of several varieties, having when mature, a yellowish skin, and flesh of a reddish orange color.

[Written also cantaleup.]


© Webster 1913.

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