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Melons are great all by themselves, though some people like to perk up their flavor by sprinkling lemon juice, salt, or liqueur on them.
Look for three things when selecting a melon: (1) Was it picked too soon? Each variety turns a certain color at maturity. If your melon isn't the right color, reject it. (2) Is it damaged? If it has soft spots, cracks, or mold, reject it. (3) Is it ripe? Even mature melons may need a few days to ripen fully. If a melon flunks either of the first two tests, don't buy it. If it passes those tests, but isn't ripe, just leave it on your kitchen counter for a few days until it reaches full flavor.
All melons should also be heavy for their size.
This looks and tastes like a cantaloupe, but the flesh is a brighter orange.Learn more
These tend to vary in quality, so unless you're good at selecting melons, stick with more idiot-proof varieties like the honeydew or cantaloupe. Canaries should, at a minimum, have bright yellow rinds. They're in season in the fall.Learn more
These are popular because they're easy to select and very sweet. Ripe cantaloupes have dull yellow backgrounds with raised netting. Avoid those with protruding stems, or tears in the rind at the stem end--it's a tell-tale sign that the melon was picked too soon. When ripe melons are picked, the stem falls off easily, leaving a small, clean depression. After checking the stem end, flip the melon over and check the blossom end. It should be fragrant and yield a bit when pressed. Cantaloupes are cheapest in the summer.Learn more
These aren't as flavorful as other melons, but they have a fairly long shelf life. Since they have thick rinds, it's useless to smell them as a test for ripeness. Look instead at the color (it should be bright yellow), and then check to see if the blossom end yields to gentle pressure.Learn more
This melon-cantaloupe cross is exceptionally juicy and flavorful, but it's hard to find outside of Sonoma County, California.Learn more
This large, popular melon is a cross between the Persian and Casaba melons. The rinds come in two colors: yellow and creamy white. The yellow ones taste better. You can buy Cranshaws while they're still a little underripe and let them sit on the counter for a few days. When fully ripe, a Cranshaw will be fragrant and yield slightly to gentle pressure at its blossom end. They're best in the fall.Learn more
This sweet, juicy melon is a honeydew-cantaloupe cross. Its biggest drawback is its relatively high price.Learn more
This is just like a honeydew melon, only it's smaller, rounder, and covered with netting.Learn more
These large, choice melons have either green or orange flesh. As honeydews ripen, they turn from green to creamy white to yellow. Avoid green ones, but a creamy white one will (unlike other melons) ripen on your counter in a few days. A perfectly ripe honeydew will yield just a bit to pressure at the blossom end and have a sticky, velvety rind.Learn more
This melon has a gorgeous orange rind with spikes--poke a stick in it and you'd have a medieval mace for a Halloween costume. The yellow-green flesh has the consistency of jello, and tastes a bit like cucumbers.Learn more
These are large, round melons. They're excellent when vine-ripened, but mediocre when not. Avoid Persian melons that have green backgrounds below the netting--they were picked too early. Also avoid those with protruding stems, or tears in the rind at the stem end--it's a tell-tale sign that the melon was picked too soon. When ripe melons are picked, the stem falls off easily, leaving a small, clean depression. They peak in the summer months.Learn more
Santa Claus melon
This is distinguished mostly by its long shelf life--you can store an uncut Santa Claus melon for several months. They have thick rinds, so don't bother smelling them for ripeness--they don't give off much of an aroma.Learn more
When ripe, this has an orange background with green netting. It's very perishable, so don't wait more than two days after getting it home to eat it.Learn more
These are delicious melons, but it's hard to know when they're fully ripe. Unlike most other melons, a ripe Spanish melon will have a green rind and be firm at the blossom end.Learn more
There are about 50 varieties of watermelon on the market. They all taste about the same, but they vary in size, flesh color, and in whether they are seeded or seedless. Picnic melons are largest, while icebox melons are round and compact. Many stores also carry yellow-fleshed, white-fleshed, and seedless melons. The rind should be heavy for its size, and free of bruises, soft spots, or cuts. To check for ripeness, look at the pale side of the melon (where it rested while it was growing)--it should be yellow, not white. If your market sells halved watermelons, inspect the flesh--it should be firm, brightly colored, and free of white streaks. Seeded watermelons should have dark brown or black seeds. To store, wrap watermelon slices loosely in plastic and refrigerate for up to two days. Uncut watermelon can be stored at room temperature (preferably in a cool spot) for up to two weeks.Learn more
These melons are small, about the size of medium papaya. They taste like cantaloupe, but with firmer flesh.Learn more