Tip of the Week-How to tell if a Melon is ripe?

Galia Melon
Galia Melon

*This is an updated post from my old blog.

Picking ripe fruit in many supermarkets is a hit and miss affair but if you take the time to read my tips I promise it will improve your chances.  Of course, if you lucky enough to live in a country with a warm enough climate to grow melons then you probably have roadside fruit and vegetable stalls where the farmer sells direct.

Generally speaking I try to buy fruit like melon or avocado several days in advance to give them a chance to ripen if need be. I use the same principle when buying for a restaurant. There is nothing worse than a “woody unripe melon” to give a bad first impression of a restaurant. Just like paying enough attention to the vegetables, a Head chef must pay serious attention to the ripeness of his fruit and vegetables and make seasonal adjustments. If you’re trimming the skin off you need to sometimes trim another 1/4 inch because the fruit right next to the skin can still be “woody” even though the rest of the fruit is ripe. I have sometimes seen well-meaning chefs trying to be thrifty not trimming enough off the melon.

Shopping Tips

Netted Melons (Galia, cantaloupe, musk, charentais, ogen)

  • Like the name suggests netted melon look as if they are covered with a fine netting. Generally speaking it is easier to find a ripe netted melon than other types which have harder and thicker skin (rind). The perfume of a ripe netted melon is easy to spot.
  • Don’t buy them if the melon has any mould at the stem end or has  got soft patches, you may find they taste winey and are past their prime.
  • Look at the stem end to determine when it was harvested. If it was cut from the vine and has a long green stem, that means it was harvested early, so it is not vine ripened.* Most melons sold in the UK are, of course, not vine ripen because of longer shipping distances from where it was grown.
  • If the stem has dried up and fallen off or is loose enough to gently pull away from the melon, then it’s probably ripe. I look for the ones that have a clean divot, where the stem used to be. Then I press on the divot to see if it yields a bit to the pressure, which is a good sign, and when most melons are fragrant, they’re ripe.
  • If you pick up two melons of the same size the heavier one will be the ripest.

Honeydew (yellow and green skin)

  • Unless you live in California finding a ripe honeydew melon is a difficult thing to do.  There are two colours of skin, yellow which has sweet green flesh and green skin that has a pale white flesh but is also sweet when ripe.
  • In California where the melons are ripened on the vine, you can tell when they are at their best because the yellow skin gets sticky.
  • If you pick up two melons of the same size the heavier one will be the ripest.

Watermelon (pale green and dark green skins)

  • Another test for ripeness is the tapping test. Just gently use the palm of your hand and tap the melon, if it sounds hollow this is an indication that the seeds have started to come away from the flesh as the juice builds up. This test can be used on any type of melon.
  • A dull coloured skin is also an indication that the melon is ripe and ready to eat.

Seasonal Adjustments to serving melon on your menu
During the summer months, if I am serving melon, I serve it very chilled to refresh. However if I am serving melon during the holiday season I want it cool but not cold so the flavour comes through.

A few culinary Ideas
If you want to serve Parma ham with your melon don’t wrap it. This way if one or two of guests turn out to be vegetarian you haven’t got to lie through your teeth as you remove the ham behind the scenes. But equally importantly I want to be able to taste the wonderful contrast of these two very different ingredients. Make a dressing from simple sugar syrup then add fresh lime zest and juice…maybe a few seedless finely chopped birds-eye chillies because the contrast of sweet and hot works well.   Bring the components together at the last moment for the best taste.

You can also try roasting the Parma ham to offer a contrast in textures, and crumble it up, on its own or with smoked crushed almonds (roast skin on almonds coated in smoked paprika).
Or if you prefer to keep the dish just fruit you could make a little fresh mint syrup and toss a few blackberries and raspberries into it.    Perhaps finely grate fresh ginger into some Crème Fraiche and add some ground cinnamon.

Interesting Facts
Botanically it belongs the same family as the cucumber, squash and pumpkins.
Honeydew is, in fact, the American name for the variety of melon, which has been grown for many years in southern France and Algeria. In China, honeydews are sometimes known as Wallace melons because they were introduced to China by Henry A. Wallace, Vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Some types of melon are classified as a fruit and others as a vegetable.  Various types of melon have been cultivated around the world for almost 4,000 years, Watermelon seeds were even found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

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