Melons - an ancient fruit with many modern varieties

September 1, 2023

The familiar high temperatures of August have given the region’s melon crops exactly what they need – the right conditions to ripen. Delaware’s sandy, well-drained soil is ideal for watermelon, sometimes called a “desert fruit” because of its origins in Southern Africa and its affinity for heat. Also benefitting from our climate are a wide range of other types of melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew.

Botanically, melons belong the cucurbitaceae family of plants, related to squash and cucumbers. Melons are prized for their sweet, juicy flesh studded with seeds inside a hard rind. Melons have been around for thousands of years, cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and brought to the Americas by early colonizers. We have come to expect these juicy treats to become available throughout the summer, and this year they did’t disappoint.

On a recent visit to the Fresh Market in Rehoboth, I encountered what appeared to be an unfamiliar melon. It looked like an ordinary cantaloupe, but it was wrapped in a green net bag. The label said it was “Summer Kiss” (complete with a red-lipsticked logo) and the name of the distributer was Dulcinea Farms. The melons sold by this purveyor are described as an exclusive line of melons from an artisanal grower with very high quality standards. 

There are three varieties in the Kiss Melon product line, each with different-colored flesh and unique flavor qualities, although they all share the familiar golden, rough-surfaced, netted exterior. Summer Kiss is a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew melons that has light-green flesh. Sugar Kiss is touted as a super-sweet cantaloupe, and Kiss Limon has bright-white flesh and a sweet-tart flavor with hints of lemon.

I have always enjoyed honeydew melon, and Summer Kiss seemed to be much more honeydew than cantaloupe, starting with the color of the flesh and ending with a texture that was slightly on the dry side. That was not a problem, as I had also brought home some watermelon, dripping with juice, that provided the perfect foil to the lighter melon. I tossed both types of melon chunks with blueberries for a bowl of summer breakfast (see photo).

One of the surprising ingredients I have found in recipes featuring summer melon is a spice blend called tajin, or officially,Tajín Clásico Seasoning. This dry mixture combines mild chili peppers, lime and sea salt. When it’s sparingly sprinkled over juicy watermelon chunks, your tastebuds will be thrilled by the combination of sweet, salty, tart and spicy. You’ll find all sorts of uses for the seasoning on the manufacturer’s website, and I’ve included a recipe for a watermelon and feta salad.

In terms of recipes for the ripest watermelon and sweetest cantaloupe, the choices are vast. I’ve included one for a watermelon-based cooler that adds some lemon sorbet for texture and flavor. The honeydew salad replaces oil in a typical dressing with some dry-roasted peanuts that cling to the juicy melon. It calls for fish sauce to add umami notes as a contrast to the almost-sweet melon.

No matter where you get your melons, they may be stored, uncut, at room temperature for up to two weeks; once cut, they should be stored in a sealed container under refrigeration for up to a week. With all the ways we have to enjoy these juicy treats, you won’t be able to keep them on hand for very long.

Cucumber Watermelon Cooler

1 English (seedless) cucumber
2 C cubed watermelon
2 scoops lemon sorbet
1 T chopped mint

Peel cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and then into cubes; place in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add melon, sorbet and mint. Process until smooth and pour into glasses. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Honeydew & Peanut Salad

1/3 C lime juice
1 thinly sliced shallot
1 jalapeno
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 t salt
2 t sugar
1 T fish sauce
1 honeydew melon
6 T chopped cilantro
4 T chopped mint
1/3 C chopped dry roasted peanuts

Combine lime juice and shallot in a serving bowl; set aside. Trim, seed and finely mince the pepper. In a mortar and pestle, grind pepper, garlic and salt into a paste. Add sugar and fish sauce to lime juice mixture and stir to combine; set aside. Halve, peel and seed the melon; cut into 1-inch chunks. Add melon to sauce mixture and stir in cilantro, mint and peanuts. Toss to combine and serve. Yield: 4 servings.

Tajin Watermelon Salad

1 small seedless watermelon
1 C crumbled feta cheese
1 T Tajin seasoning
1/4 C chopped mint
3 T olive oil
2 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T lime juice
salt & pepper, to taste

Peel and cube the watermelon; arrange chunks on a serving platter. Sprinkler with cheese, seasoning and mint. Whisk together remaining ingredients and drizzle over watermelon. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.


I received a note about last week’s column from Pat Steel, who gently chided me about the folly of boiling corn on the cob using the stovetop during the hottest days of the year. She advocated the much cooler and more efficient microwave method. She said, “Use the microwave, put 2 ears on a plate with a bit of water and a cover, and they're done in 3 minutes.” She’s right! Thank you, Pat.


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