A melon by any other name might smell as sweet . . .

By Susan Olcott

I recently bought the cutest, roundest little watermelon at the market. One hot summer afternoon after plenty of salty fun in the water, I brought ours down to the beach to cut up only to be pleasantly surprised by a neighbor generously offering us ANOTHER watermelon. Phew – now there might actually be enough for the adults to have some too! This would also make for a fun comparison. The store-bought melon was much sweeter and was the kids’ favorite. But, the flavor of the local melon was much more subtle. It also had plenty of seeds, which were fun to spit into the water. This led me to wonder what makes a melon sweet (or not). I knew how to select for a ripe melon. Sniff the stem end and it should smell sweet and be slightly soft to the touch. Thump it and it should sound hollow. Then, weigh it and make sure it feels heavy for its size – and you should have a ripe melon.

But, I wanted to know more about what causes the differences in sweetness among melons that pass the ripeness tests. My limited knowledge of melons was that they liked hot weather and plenty of water – two things that Maine doesn’t exactly have in excess, so perhaps some of the question can be answered by where the melon was grown. I also guessed that the store-bought melon had been bred for higher sugar content. I found a few additional tips. First, you can spray Boron on watermelon vines, Boron is a mineral that helps to sweeten the fruit – you can make it by mixing a tablespoon of household Borax into a gallon of water. Second, melons really do like sun. If you are growing a melon, you should turn it every few days to expose each part it of it to the sun, helping to sweeten the flesh inside all the way around.

Finally, the lack of natural sweetness in the local watermelon made me ponder what else I could do with it besides just cut it up and eat it raw. I found some inventive ideas that take advantage of the watery nature of melons as well as the gentle almost squash-like flavors that cantaloupe and honeydew can add to a dish. Below are three recipes for three types of melon. The first is a simple summer salad, the second a refreshing drink, and the last is a twist on the classic prosciutto and melon combination.

Watermelon Salad (from The Mediterranean Dish)

Ingredients (Serves 8)

2 T honey

2 T lime juice

1 T olive oil

Pinch of salt

1 bunch fresh mint leaves, torn

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, torn

1 watermelon (3-5 lb) cut into thin triangles

1 cucumber cut into thin rounds

1/2 c crumbled feta cheese


  1. Whisk together first four ingredients and stir in fresh herbs.
  2. Arrange watermelon and cucumber slices on a platter.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad
  4. Top with cheese.

Honeydew Fizz


1 honeydew (3 lb) cut into chunks

1 cucumber, cut into chunks

1 bunch mint (plus sprigs for garnish)

3 T fresh lime juice

1 T honey

Pinch of salt

Club soda


  1. Blend all ingredients except for club soda in a blender.
  2. Chill for 1 hour.
  3. Pour into a tall glass and stir in club soda.
  4. Garnish with a spring of mint

Cantaloupe Pancetta Pasta Salad (from Bon Appetit)

Ingredients (Serves 4)

4 oz thinly sliced pancetta (or Prosciutto)

8 oz orecchiete pasta

3 T olive oil

3 T white wine vinegar

2 c cantaloupe, thinly shaved

1 bunch fresh mint, torn

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Ricotta Salata (or Feta cheese) to top

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat oven to 350°. Arrange pancetta in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until brown and crisp, 20–25 minutes. (Alternatively, place pancetta on folded layers of paper towels on a microwave-proof plate and microwave on high until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.) Let pancetta stand until cool enough to handle, then break into bite-size pieces.
  2. Cook pasta in a medium pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta; run under cold water to cool. Drain and set aside.
  3. Whisk oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Add half of pancetta, cooked pasta, melon, half of mint, and scallion. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with remaining pancetta and mint.
  4. Garnish with crumbled Ricotta Salata.