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.