You may have noticed a summer phenomenon taking place in our produce department. People standing around bins of watermelons with a far off look in their eyes, picking up a melon, banging on it, and then listening patiently as if the watermelon was about to divine their future. Actually, it is. When done properly this ritual will tell you which watermelon is ripe for the eating. If you’re not sure what you’re listening for, fear not! Even though there are as many varieties of melons as there are questions about how to choose one, we’ve got your guide to have you happily eating juicy organic melon all summer long.
While all melons have slightly different ‘tells’ to determine their ripeness, there are a few general guidelines you can use, no matter the type. First, look for a melon that is heavy for its size. Next see if the area where the stem was attached is slightly soft. Finally, the melon should smell sweet. These three simple steps are a fairly surefire way to pick a perfect melon.
The ritual watermelon thumping you’ve witnessed is exclusive to watermelons. Mostly. Except cantaloupes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To perform this ritual yourself thump the watermelon with the palm of your hand and listen for a dull thud rather than a ringing or hollow sound. Still not sure? Check the ground spot, the place where the watermelon rested on the soil. Look for a ground spot that is yellow or cream colored. If this spot is green or white, the melon is probably not ripe. Watermelons won’t continue to ripen after they’ve been picked so it’s important to choose one that’s ripe.
Alright, let’s talk about cantaloupe. Even though cantaloupes are available year round, their peak season is June through August when their flavor is the sweetest and their nutrients the highest. When picking a cantaloupe all the general rules apply, plus you can use the thumping method. However, when thumping a cantaloupe, it should sound hollow instead of making a thud. Cantaloupe = hollow, watermelon = thud. Also, look at the rind, which should be yellow or cream colored underneath the “netting.” Cantaloupes with green undertones are probably not ripe.
The peak season for honeydews is a little longer than the cantaloupe. They are best May until October. Honeydews should be a creamy yellow color and firm with a small amount of softness at the stem. Avoid honeydews that are too soft or green in color. In an especially juicy honeydew the seeds will rattle when you shake it.
A hybrid of the honeydew and cantaloupe is the orange flesh honeydew. When sliced, they have orange flesh like a cantaloupe, but they don’t have the netted skin and their flavor resembles a honeydew. Bred to be especially juicy and flavorful, the orange flesh honeydew makes an excellent sorbet. They are sometimes called a “temptation melon” for their rich, creamy flavor.
A few other varieties of exotic organic melons will continue to pop up on the shelves here at LifeSource throughout the summer. Here are a few to keep an eye out for: Crenshaw, a hybrid of the Casaba and Persian melons with a sweet juicy flesh. Its peak season is from July through September. The Crenshaw melon is ovoid in shape and when it is ripe will have a greenish yellow skin that is slightly ribbed. Delicious eaten fresh or in fruit salads. Wrap it in prosciutto for a surprising appetizer.
Galia, a hybrid of cantaloupe and honeydew that is incredibly fragrant with a juicy, super-sweet flesh. When ripe, its outer coloring should be a golden yellow under its netting, with a sweet aroma. Look for these signs rather than testing for softness at the root. Mediterranean cooks serve them with fresh ground pepper or sea salt to compliment the sweetness, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Charentais are tiny round melons with a smooth or a slightly netted gray-green rind with dark green, indented seams. They have an orange flesh and flowery aroma. Choose ripe Charentais based on their sweet aroma.
Piel de Sapo are oblong, with a deep green rind freckled with yellow and dark green spots. This melon has a thick rind with a creamy yellow flesh. The rind should give slightly under pressure when ripe, and the stem end will give easily to a gentle push. Look for sugar scars, indicating that the fruit is especially sweet.
It’s important to thoroughly wash even organic melons before cutting them. Bacteria on the skin can be easily transferred as the knife slices through the rind.
Now you can thump, rattle and sniff your way to tasty organic melons all summer long. Here’s to those juicy, sweet, melon-filled summer days!