Sunday, July 23, 2006

CULINARY DISCOVERY: Cantaloupes

Cantaloupes, cucumis melo, a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, grow well in aerated soil that is well watered. True cantaloupes, cantaloupensis, are not actually grown in America. What we typically consider a cantaloupe are musk-scented melons with a netted rind. True cantaloupes are grown in Europe and are much more rough and bumpy. All cantaloupes are muskmelons but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes. Most of the cantaloupes, as we know them, are grown in California.

The name derives from Cantalup, an Italian Papal village, in which it was thought that this muskmelon was first cultivated in the early 1700’s. Food historians are unsure of where muskmelons were first cultivated but it is thought that somewhere in the general Middle East area. There are depictions of melons in Egyptian paintings dating back to 2400 BCE. In the Sumerian epic, Gilgamesh, dating from about 2000 BCE, the king eats cassia melons. They also appear in Assyrian relief sculptures. Throughout the Middle East and China, melon seeds were dried and roasted for a snack. Melon seeds have been recovered during an archeological dig that excavated a site in the Hunan province that dates back to 125 BCE. The seeds were found in the digestive system of a well-preserved woman who is thought to have been the wife of the Marquis of Tai. In the 1st Century CE, Pliny the Elder, a roman writer described the melopepo plant as a vine that grows a spherical fruit like a cucumber but lies on the ground. The melon also appears around that period in wall paintings in Herculaneum below Mt. Vesuvius. The Romans imported many of their melons from Asia Minor. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, shipments to Italy declined. It was not until around the 14th Century that melons regained popularity. The moors cultivated melons throughout southern Spain. Christopher Columbus brought melons with him on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. Slowly but surely melons were grown throughout North America but did not gain popularity until the 19th Century when they became a large crop after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

They are usually available year round but their season is typically June through August. Since cantaloupes do not ripen once picked they must be picked ripe. Farmers have an easy way to determine if a melon is ripe. Once the melon has reached its maximum sugar content, a buffer layer forms a shield between the stem and the melon so no more nutrients enter the melon and the plant itself can be nourished. Once this shield is formed, the melons are easy to remove from the vine.

Unfortunately, many melons are picked before becoming perfectly ripe so that they are not damaged during shipment. Melons will soften off the vine but they will not sweeten off the vine. This is why many people think that their melon is ripening at home on their counter. One of the best ways to tell if it is ripe is to smell it and is really fragrant then it will most likely be delicious as one with out smell is probably one with out taste. Another indicator of ripeness; is if they seem heavy for its small size because that will mean that is nice and juicy. Underneath the netting of the rind, the color should be yellow or creamy and no longer green. The stem area should also have no vine still attached nor should it be overly sunken.

Once melon has become soft, store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. If you cut the melon up, make sure you wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

They are rich in vitamin A with its highly concentrated levels of beta-carotene. It is also a great source of vitamin C. And there is only 50 calories per 6 ounces.

2 comments:

Paz said...

Thanks for this wonderful information!

Paz

Gabriella True said...

Thanks Paz. I found it very interesting to find all this out.