Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Savoring the Melon Season

Split melons now lie on tables at farmers markets like suns pulled from the sky. Their varieties circle the color wheel — pink, green, yellow and orange — but it's the deep apricot-colored cantaloupe that beckons me.

Others feel the same way. Of all the melons, cantaloupes are the most popular. So when the first cantaloupes arrive this month, get in line early. If the farmers market has sold out of them, look for the "farm fresh lopes" signs at roadside stands, and pull over to nab one. Then head home, slice that sweet, round fruit open, and take a bite of one of summer's lightest, freshest tastes.

Depending on when seeds are started, the cantaloupe harvest around the country can begin as early as June and continue throughout the summer. Ripe cantaloupes should be stored in the refrigerator, unripe ones on the counter for a few days. They should be washed thoroughly before slicing, and leaving the seeds in until just before eating helps to keep a halved melon moist.

There are some easy guidelines to picking a ripe cantaloupe. It should have a mild, musky aroma on the stem end; an odorless cantaloupe is likely to have little taste. A ripe melon should have firm, khaki-colored skin with even netting. Avoid cantaloupes that are soft or bruised, and those that have cracks or shriveling, or an attached stem. The stem can mean that the fruit was harvested too early, because a melon ready for harvest will easily slip its stem. The stem end should yield to pressure, but not be mushy. Also, growers say cantaloupes with tighter netting have a firmer, crisper texture.

That raised netting on its skin is a hallmark of the fruit known to Americans as "cantaloupe" — technically, it's a netted muskmelon. The true cantaloupe is not grown commercially in the United States, but melons have long roots here.

Explorer Christopher Columbus brought melon seeds to the New World, and both native peoples and European settlers spread the fruit. By the 1600s, they were grown from Florida to New England.

Beyond that, ancient melon history is a little murky, although there is a biblical reference in Numbers 11:5 as Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt: "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic, but now there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."

Cantaloupe has been a fruit for the ages partly because of its health benefits. It's a nutrition powerhouse — high in vitamins C and A, plus potassium. If that isn't enough, consider that a quarter of an average-size cantaloupe has about 50 calories.

I've always eaten slices of fresh cantaloupe unadorned, but there are many alternatives. The first time I saw someone sprinkle salt on a slice of lope, I recoiled. Some find that salt — or even pepper — enhances cantaloupe's flavor. I still don't care for salt on my melon, but I have come to appreciate its varied uses. It's ideal for soups, smoothies, fruit cocktails, salsas and sorbets.

However you slice it, it's a taste of summer, straight from the sun to you.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

D. Cameron Lawrence