Store At: Best ripened at room temperature, but will store well for up to a week at 5-10°C.
Comes From: Preferably warm humid temperate regions
Seasonality: All year round
Melons are members of a very wide family of trailing annual vines, which also includes squash, pumpkins and cucumbers. They have large broad leaves, stems covered in light prickles and small yellow flowers. The fruit themselves are soft fleshed with a central cavern containing seeds, all surrounded by a thick protective rind.
There are two groups of melons available; watermelons and muskmelons. The watermelon group includes all varieties of watermelon, while the muskmelon group includes all other melons, including Honeydew melons. There are two groups of melons within muskmelons; smooth-skinned and netted, of which honeydew are smooth skinned. Muskmelons typically come into season during late summer and early Autumn.
Honeydew is the common American name for a particular cultivar of melon, the "White Antibes" or winter melon, which has been grown for many years in Europe, with the term honeydew gaining wide acceptance, probably because it's easier to remember!
Honeydew melons are more of a rugby or American football shape than the usual round shape of a melon, and are typically 15-25cm long. The flesh inside is pale green to yellow, with the peel ranging from green to yellow.
As with most melons, honeydews are harvested on maturity and not size. This can mean they are difficult to judge; how do you tell when a melon is ready to pick? One easy way is the colour, which in honeydews ranges from greenish-white on immature fruit to a creamy yellow on mature fruit.
How do you pick a ripe melon in the greengrocers or supermarket? A honeydew melon should feel heavy for its size, and it should be firm; soft and squishy melons are overripe. It shouldn't be too firm however; if there is no "give" at all when you press the surface, it's not completely ripe. Another good indicator is to smell the stem end of the fruit, where it was connected to the plant (which usually has a little stub where it was cut off); this should give off a very heady and strong melon smell when the fruit is ripe. Finally, honeydew melons have a very fine veining on the surface of the fruit that can only be detected by touch when they are ripe.
Melons will ripen when taken off the plant (provided they are mature enough when picked), and can be ripened in a fruit bowl with bananas. Honeydew melons can be stored either at room temperature or in a refrigerator. They should be brought up to room temperature before eating to get the best taste, and if you want to cut it in half, the other half will store well in the refrigerator for about 3 days. Wrap it up well though, because melons are very aromatic and their smell may penetrate other foods.
The origin of the melon is difficult to pinpoint, with different views on whether they originated in Africa or Asia Minor. It is also difficult to pinpoint when they were first cultivated for food, since melon seeds are very similar to cucumber seeds and difficult to tell apart when found in archaeological digs. The earliest confirmed identifications are in India around 2,000BC, and Egypt about 2,400BC. It is impossible to distinguish what types of melons were around then however.
It is almost certain that the melons grown then were not the ones we know now; the sweet, aromatic melons we eat were not around back then, and were probably more similar to the cucumber (and were indeed classified alongside cucumbers), and were really not that appetising, and in fact, unripe melons back then were noted to cause vomiting and nausea.
However, this eventually changed through cultivation and cross-breeding. By the third century AD, melons had sweetened enough to be eaten with spices, and by the sixth and seventh century they were accepted to be different from cucumbers. However, the first references to sweet, aromatic melons did not appear until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as a result of hybridization between different varieties.
Melons were first introduced to England around the turn of the sixteenth century, although they were known as "Mylone". One of the first places they were grown was Hampton Court in 1515, and from here they spread around the country, typically in the gardens of rich people, due to their initial rarity.
Melons were taken to the West Indies by the Spanish, and also to America. A story is often told of Christopher Columbus's first expedition to America carrying melons there, with the seed being discarded; when Columbus returned on his next visit, they found melons growing everywhere.
They rapidly gained popularity with settlers in America, and by the 18th century was a much prized fruit at the dinner table, with their cultivation becoming very important.
Today, many varieties of melon are available; unfortunately in the UK we are limited to some typical five or six varieties; hopefully before long we'll start getting some more exotic ones made available, as is recently happening in countries such as America.
There can be only one use for melons really, and that's eating fresh! Whether as part of a fruit salad or in a dessert on their own, they're simply delicious when ripe. They can be eaten with a spoon, cut into halves, quarters, cubes, wedges or balls.
A quick tip though - always give the skin a wash in warm soapy water before cutting. While you won't eat the skin, any impurities on it could be carried onto the flesh by the knife, and there have been some cases in the United States recently of salmonella contamination of melons this way.
Melons are easy to grow if given the right conditions; they typically grow best under glass, but can be grown outdoors in warmer regions. They need higher temperatures than tomatoes (around 30°C/85°F) and high humidity (which helps discourage red spider mite, a pest), but will grow well with cucumbers which require similar conditions. Contrary to popular belief, you can grow melons alongside cucumbers; they are similar, but will not cross-pollinate each other.
One other growing conditions melons prefer is diffuse light rather than bright light. The soil should be rich and well drained, and like the atmosphere around them, kept continually moist.
Melons are one of the easiest plants to crop well in a large pot, as long as they are kept warm enough, watered well and regularly fed with a liquid feed such as tomato feed.
Seeds should be started around March to April if growing in a greenhouse, and May if growing outside. Put one or two seeds in a 3½ inch pot of compost, and if both germinate, remove the weaker seedling. Pot on as necessary, but don't pot them into oversized pots, and don't let the root balls get too tight. They should be planted out as soon as it is warm enough (a heated greenhouse is best).
Melons can either be left to trail over the ground, or grown upwards as climbers. If growing as climbers, plenty of support is needed for the stems to wind themselves up; melons have tough, long tendrils which will reach a long way to find support. A good way is trailing long strings down from a height, and gently wrapping them around a stem; the stem will then follow the string upwards.
As fruits develop, when they reach the size of a tennis ball they should be supported independently of the stems, to take some of the burden of the weight. A good way to do this is either string net bags or old tights to hold the fruit, suspended from support above.
As for harvesting, its best to go on the colour, which for honeydews should be a skin colour of creamy yellow. Check the melon is a good size and weight for its size, and if you're really lucky, the melon will easily come off the stem, another sign that it's ripe and ready for eating!
- Wikipedia Article on Cantaloupe
- Wikipedia Article on Honeydew
- Worlds Healthiest Food Article on Cantaloupe
- Wikipedia Article on Melons
- Foodreference Article on Melons
- Melon Recipes