Everyone’s favorite: Cantaloupe is now in season

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jul 23, 2010 - 05:51 PM

It’s easy to understand why the cantaloupe with its refreshing rich flavor and aroma and minimal calories is the most popular variety of melon in the United States. The peak season runs from June through August, yet the cantaloupe has become increasingly available throughout the year.

Photo: When cooled and sliced in half, fresh cantaloupe doesn’t need anything added to make it a favorite at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

When cooled and sliced in half, fresh cantaloupe doesn’t need anything added to make it a favorite at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

Are what we call cantaloupes really cantaloupes? According to "Cantaloupe Food Facts," "Cantaloupe History," and "History of Cantaloupes," muskmelons have been masquerading as cantaloupes in the U.S. for many years. A true cantaloupe is not netted, has deep grooves, a hard warty rind, and orange or green flesh. It is grown in Europe, but rarely in this country, where the population easily makes the distinction between muskmelon and cantaloupe.

The muskmelons (hereafter referred to as cantaloupes) that most Americans call cantaloupes have distinct netted or webbed rind. When sliced, the hollow cavity is filled with seeds encased in a web of strings. Cantaloupe is also known as rockmelon or netted melon in several parts of the world. Many of the cantaloupes available today are hybrids of muskmelons and true cantaloupes, and have qualities of both.

The cantaloupe derives its name from the Italian papal village of Cantaloupe, where it was first cultivated in Europe around 1700 A.D. The melon is in the same family as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin and gourds.

The origin of melons has been debated but their beginning is believed to be somewhere between or around Persia, Afghanistan and Armenia. It is known that cantaloupes were cultivated in Egypt and grown across to Iran and northeast India dating to Biblical times, about 2400 B.C. These were not the large melons we know today; rather they were about the size of an orange.

Columbus brought cantaloupe seeds to the New World on one of his trips. Later the Indians were cultivating them. The Navajos were growing cantaloupes in the mid 1800s. However, it was not until well after the Civil War, around 1895, that cantaloupes became a commercial crop in the United States and, surprisingly, in Colorado. Today California grows 70 percent of this country’s cantaloupe crop with Texas and Arizona second and third respectively in production.

To choose a ripe melon—and that is a hard task—first tap the melon with the palm of your hand. If you hear a hollow sound, it has passed its first test. Choose one that seems heavy for its size and one that is not bruised or has soft spots. Look for one where the rind underneath has turned yellow or cream-colored; the stem area should be smooth.

Besides the following recipes these simple serving ideas are easy and quick ways to enjoy a treat that contains only 50 calories per 6-oz. slice. Half a melon will meet your daily requirements for vitamins A and C as well as various minerals such as folic acid and potassium. Melons contain no fat or cholesterol, and provide fiber.

Add some sparkling water to fresh squeezed cantaloupe juice for a refreshing drink during these hot months.

In a blender or food processor, purée cantaloupe and peeled, soft peaches to make a delicious cold soup. Add lemon juice and honey to taste.

Top cantaloupe slices with yogurt and chopped mint.

Slice melon in half horizontally, scoop out seeds and use each half as a basket in which to serve fruit salad.

Note: Information on cantaloupes was taken from "Cantaloupes Food, Facts, History"; "Cantaloupe"; "History of Cantaloupes" and "Cantaloupe History."