Melons Magically Make Us Dream of Sweet Summer Delights
“For many people, melons are inexplicably linked with summer. When I eat a great-tasting cantaloupe, I am transported back to the warm summer mornings of my childhood, when my parents and four siblings and I would eat breakfast on the patio,” says Jo Robinson as she tells the story in the last chapter of her book, Eating on the Wild Side. “Cantaloupe was our favorite fruit,” she continues, “My dad would sprinkle his melon with salt, claiming it made it sweeter. (Science supports this.) My mom used a knife to cut her cantaloupes into cubes, then ate them with a fork. The five of us kids skipped the salt and dug into the fruit with our spoons.
“On warm summer evenings, we clamored for cantaloupe wedges topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream. I can still see the ice cream melting down the sides of the melon,” smiles Robinson, as she obviously knows how to save the best for last in her informative journal on nutritional fruit and vegetable gardening. Or could it be that Robinson also saved the least nutritional fruit for last as well?
“Most of the melons that are sold in the summer are grown in the United States, but in spring, fall, and winter they are imported from other countries,” she notes, “In 2010, we imported $478 million worth of melons, most of them from Mexico. The rest came from Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Honduras. We eat, on average, 26 pounds of melons a year, which puts them high on our list of favorite fruits. In fact, when all melons are combined, they come second to bananas in overall consumption.”
But Robinson says these refreshing sweet summertime treats are somewhat lacking when it comes time to tally up nutritional value. “Melons are about 95 per cent water, so whatever nutrients they contain are highly diluted,” she adds, “This is one of the reasons they are lower in phytonutrients than almost all other fruits. Nonetheless, they are refreshing, juicy, low-calorie treats that provide a reasonable amount of vitamin C. If you know what to look for, you can get added phytonutrients as well.”
Aancestry of the Melon
Robinson traces the ancestral origin of the watermelon back to the tsamma melon (Citrullus lanatus) in South Africa, and cultivation (as verified by hieroglyphics) of them back to at least ancient Egypt—4000 years ago. “The flesh of the fruit is whitish-green, tart, and dry, and it has large brown seeds. The largest varieties are about eight inches in diameter,” she says, “Today wild watermelons serve as botanical canteens for the indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert. They poke a hole in the top of the fruit with a stick and twist the stick to mash the flesh. Then they upend the melon and drink the slurry.
“At some point in the domestication of watermelons, a red-fleshed mutant appeared,” she continues, “The red fruits were preferred over white-fleshed varieties and soon became more popular. Lycopene, we now know, provides the red color. Dark-red watermelons are one of the best sources of this phytonutrient. In fact, some varieties have 40 per cent more lycopene per ounce than ripe tomatoes.”
Robinson recommends buying pre-cut watermelons at the grocery, where “you can see the inside color before you buy them. As a rule, small seedless watermelons are more nutritious than the large heirloom varieties. The skin of a ripe watermelon has lost its gloss, and the ‘ground spot’ is yellow. Listen for a deep sound when you thump it. Store watermelons at room temperature for a few days to increase their antioxidant value.”
Regarding other melons, Robinson says, “As a rule, honeydew and casaba melons are the sweetest and least nutritious. An exception to this rule is the orange-fleshed honeydew, which has more beta-carotene than most varieties of cantaloupe.”
She also encourages us to “Scrub melons thoroughly to remove surface bacteria.” prior to preparation for eating. “Because melons rest on the ground, they come into direct contact with potentially-harmful soil bacteria,” she adds, “Scrub them with a clean, soft brush under a running water. Netted melons, such as cantaloupes, have more places in which to harbor bacteria and need an even more thorough scrubbing.”
In Our Shop
SeedsNSuch is proud to offer ‘Harvest Moon Seedless Hybrid’ watermelon seeds, giving home gardeners an opportunity to grow their own seedless, deep-red-fleshed, smaller-sized melons, that according to Robinson’s research, are the most nutritious of all watermelons being offered on today’s market, including the heirloom types. This new offering is a hybrid version of the longtime-favorite heirloom ‘Moon & Stars’ variety, and its special features—in addition to being seedless—include more compact vine growth, as well as smaller-sized 18-20-pound melons. Seeds for the necessary pollinator plants to produce the seedless fruits are included in our packets.
Other excellent choices for more nutritional varieties that we offer are the smaller-fruited Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet varieties. But Robinson also noted that most watermelons consumed in the U.S. are for summertime fun that provides plenty of refreshing, mouth-watering flavor, and it’s hard to resist the old heirloom types, such as ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’ and ‘Moon & Stars.’ But the biggest producer of the lot is ‘Carolina Cross #180,’ which yields huge melons up to 200 pounds, perfect for family parties and picnics, not to mention largest watermelon bragging rights.
And for the gourmet cooks that require color in their presentation, we have ‘Golden Crown Hybrid’ (golden-yellow rind and pink flesh), ‘New Queen Hybrid’ (orange flesh) and ‘Yellow Doll Hybrid’ (bright yellow flesh). Each of these colorful melon varieties features icebox-sized melons and compact vine growth to save space, perfect for home gardens.
We offer a fine array of the sweetest and most dependable of garden variety cantaloupes, including the more nutritious, dark orange-fleshed types, such as ‘Superstar Hybrid,’ ‘Athena Hybrid’ and ‘Halona Hybrid.’ But there’s certainly no lack of sugary-sweet flavor in our other favorites, including ‘Ambrosia Hybrid,’ ‘Rocky Ford Green Flesh,’ ‘Banana,’ ‘Hale’s Best Jumbo,’ ‘Jenny Lind’ and ‘Burpee Hybrid.’ And for you gourmet diners, try our supersweet and colorful ‘Lambkin Hybrid Specialty Melon’ and ‘Dulce Nectar Hybrid Honeydew.’