As the grocery stores begin to fill their produce aisles with bins of melons in all shapes and sizes, there has been much discussion in our office about the "right" way to choose the perfect melon. It seems everyone has their own technique and they vary widely. Carol O'Meara recently wrote a delightful piece about just that for some of our local newspapers. I'm telling you, the topic is HOT!!
Well, last week my husband and I decided we were going to take a little road trip to the "Sweet Melon Capital" (of the U.S.? The world? We're not sure, but it's their claim!) and drove to Rocky Ford, home of the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes and watermelons. Nestled smack dab in the very open and expansive south eastern plains of the state, you see fields of melons growing as you begin to approach the tiny town of roughly 4,000. Melon fields are an unusual site coming from the Front Range where we are used to seeing corn, sugar beats, wheat and development.
We decided to pull in to the first farm stand we came across and it was impressive! As soon as we opened the car doors we could smell the almost sickly sweet aroma of all those melons. We were practically giddy with melon anticipation.
I decided to call in the experts. I spotted a woman who clearly looked like an employee and might know a thing or two about finding ripe fruit. I felt slightly sheepish about bothering her, it looked like she'd had a long day of melon slinging, but asked her if she wouldn't mind given me a quick tutorial. To my delight she gave us an extremely thorough and rather chipper tour of all the melons and what to look for. When I complimented her knowledge she said, "Well, I've been doing this for 50 of my 55 years on this planet, it's what I know!!"
Here is what she told us:
- First, you don't thump or push the ends of cantaloupe.
- A ripe, ready to eat cantaloupe will have a nice white netting or webbing with golden yellow beneath.
- If it is greenish below the netting it may still be ripe (if other criteria are met) but will have a longer shelf life.
- "Full slip" indicates that the melon was fully sugared when picked and is recognized by there being no stem left on the fruit. The stem "slips" off the fruit when ready. If there is a piece of stem still attached, the melon has not fully sugared and never will.
- If you shake the melon and you hear the seeds, this means the melon is too ripe.
|White netting, golden below (ready to eat now)|
|White netting, green below (it will be ready in a few days)|
|Left didn't reach full slip stage (it was a mistake to pick), the right did|
Rocky Sweet and Dove Melon (hybrid cantaloupe/honeydew)
- On the bloom end of the melon (opposite the stem side) give a light push with your thumbs. It should go in slightly and spring back. If it goes in a lot, too ripe.
- These are both hybrid melons and have a very high sugar content. Because of this they don't store particularly well so eat 'em if you got 'em!
- She said you can do the blossom end push test on these too, but her preferred method is feeling the rind/skin. It should feel waxy. There was a bin of honeydews that had be picked that day and they were not waxy. After bringing one home and waiting for 3-4 days, it started to feel waxy!!
And finally, watermelons
- These are the melons you want to thump. That can be with an open hand or give a light knock with your knuckles. As Carol explains in her article...there is no need to abuse the melons, a light thump will do.
- Should sound hollow.
- If it sounds dead or thuddy, too ripe. (clearly this is pretty subjective, but I figure with practice and a few good/bad melons we can all get the hang of it.)
- You can also look for red or brown ooze coming out of the ends or anywhere, really. This is sugar so it means your melon will be super sweet.
- If there is still stem on a watermelon, that is fine it just means it was recently picked. They eventually dry up and fall off.
|"Thump a Friendly Melon at Knapp's Farm Market"|
|Reddish brown ooze signals high sugar and ripeness|
|More ooze coming from stem end|
So, with all of our new found knowledge we loaded up the car with melons and were on our way. It was such a great experience getting to learn from someone so close to the actual process. As we left the farm stand, tractors were driving through with bin after bin of freshly picked melons. On the drive back home we saw pick-up trucks cruising down the highway with those same bins loaded on trailers taking them across the state to expectant customers eager to dig into the famous Rocky Ford melons.