Cutting up Cantaloupe

North American cantaloupes (Cucumis melo reticulatus) share their subspecies with galia and Sharlyn melons. They share their species (C. melo or muskmelon) with European cantaloupes, Persian melons, Korean melons, canary melons, casaba, Hami melons, honeydews, kolkhoznitsa melons, Piel de Sapo (Santa Claus melon), sugar melons, tiger melons, Japanese melons, Crenshaws, and crane melons. These melons share the genus Cucumis with cucumbers, horned melons, winter melons, and bitter melons. All these fruits in turn belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, along with chayotesquash, and watermelon.

The wild ancestors of muskmelons likely originated in the region stretching from Egypt to Iran and northwest India. The muskmelon itself may have originated somewhere in Persia. Egyptian paintings dating back to 2400 BC include fruits that are identified as melons.

Ur-Nammu (ca. 2047–2030 BC), who founded the Sumerian 3rd dynasty of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, grew melons in his garden. In Gilgamesh, a Sumerian epic completed about 2000 BC, the hero, a Babylonian king for whom the story is named, ate “cassia melons,” a name indicating the fruit had a spicy aromatic flavor.

The Book of Numbers (11:15) mentions that after the Israelites left Egypt (around 1446 BC), melons were one of the foods they greatly missed, along with leeks, garliconions, and cucumbers.

Slices of what appear to be melon are depicted on the festive tables of several Assyrian bas reliefs. Melons are also listed in an Assyrian herbal. Marduk-apla-iddina II (Merodach-Baladan), who usurped the Babylonian throne in 721 BC, also enjoyed melons from his gardens. A Middle Eastern proverb states, “He who fills his stomach with melons is like he who fills it with light–there is baraka (a blessing) in them.” All throughout the Middle East, dried and roasted melon seeds have long been a favorite snack.

By 125 BC, even the Chinese royalty were enjoying melon seeds. The perfectly preserved body of the wife of the Marquis of Tai during the Han dynasty was discovered in 1973, in the province of Hunan in a nested coffin that was buried sixty feet deep. Melon seeds were found in her esophagus, stomach, and intestines.

Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman naturalist who described a sweet, aromatic melopepo, that grows on a vine that does not hang like the cucumber, but rather lies on the ground. He describes its fruit as spherical and yellowish and even notes that it detaches easily from the stem–all qualities that describe the cantaloupe. Pliny died during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. At the foot of that volcano, a wall painting depicting melons cut in half was discovered in the city Herculaneum, which was buried in the eruption. Claudius Galenus (AD 129 – c. 200/c. 216), better known as Galen of Pergamon (in modern-day Turkey), was a prominent Greek-speaking Roman physician who wrote of melons’ medicinal properties.

About the third century AD, the Romans were importing their melons from Armenia. These were not the large, weighty melons we know today, rather they were about the size of oranges. Some people were also growing the melons, as there were Roman manuals that gave specific directions on their cultivation. Apicius, a Roman cookbook usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD, includes a savory recipe for melon (which might have referred to a gourd), simmered with vinegar, honey, ground pepper, and parsley. When the Roman Empire collapsed around 476 AD, Italy no longer received shipments of melons from Asia Minor.

The Moors planted melons in Spain during the 8th century, where they were likely later discovered by Charlemagne. Muskmelon (referred to as pepone) was among the dozens of plants that Charlemagne ordered to grown in Capitulare de Villis, an imperial mandate for his many domains around Europe during the 9th century.

Albertus Magnus, European writer of 13th century, clearly describes the watermelon and the pepo, a term used by Europeans to refer to the cantaloupe. En route to China, sometime around 1254 to 1324 AD, Marco Polo traveled to the city of Shibarghan in Afghanistan. There he found what he considered “the best melons in the world in very great quantity which they dry in this manner: they cut them all around in slices like strips of leather, then put them in the sun to dry, when they become sweeter than honey. And you must know that they are an article of commerce and find a ready sale through all the country around.” During the fourteenth century, melons returned to Italy, still in their orange-size portions. At that point the Italians took their cultivation seriously, and melons began to expand in size and weight.

During the 15th century, cantaloupes were growing in popularity in the southern part of Spain. Melon seeds were brought in by the Arabs who settled in Andalusia. In 1493, Christopher Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World with 17 ships and 1200 men. They planted cantaloupe seeds in Haiti and shared them with the native population, who enjoyed the new fruit with enthusiasm. About this same time Charles VIII of France (King from 1483 to 1498) reportedly introduced muskmelons into central and northern Europe from Rome.

Before the end of the 16th century, the muskmelon likely had been introduced by the Spaniards to many places in North America. It was grown in the first English colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts. The North American Indians were commonly growing it in the 17th century. In the mid-17th century, the Indians of Florida, the Middle West, and New England grew it. The muskmelon is reported to have been introduced into Bermuda in 1609 and by the Spaniards into California in 1683. It was grown in Brazil before 1650.

In the 17th century, melons were becoming a popular fruit in France and Italy, but could only be grown in the southern regions, and then only under glass to capture enough warmth for them to mature. At that time the French were referring to melons as “sucrins,” meaning sugar. Charles Estienne, printer and publisher, revealed the secret of success to growing sweet melons. He said, “gardeners watered them with honeyed or sweetened water.” Even Jean de la Quintinie, gardener to Louis XIV, planted seven varieties of melons under glass.

At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson grew muskmelons in his gardens as did his enslaved workers in their own plots. John Custis, a contemporary of Jefferson living in Williamsburg, Virginia, observed in 1737 the “multitude of melons” growing in his enslaved workers’ gardens.

In the 1825 gastronomic treatise Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote that melons were edible only at their peak moment of ripeness, “as soon as they have reached all the perfection to which they are destined.” In the mid-1800’s Navajos in the United States Southwest were growing cantaloupes whose seeds probably arrived via Latin America.  Our familiar cantaloupe, or muskmelon, was developed by W. Altee Burpee Company in 1881. Because of its very netted rind, the cantaloupe earned the variety name of Netted Gem. It wasn’t until 1895 that commercial production of the cantaloupe actually began, surprisingly, in the state of Colorado.

On a trip to Armenia some time during the 1900’s, British novelist Michael Arlen learned that it was the Armenians who introduced the casaba melon into California. That variety of melon acquired its name from the city of Kasaba, in Turkey, where it was also cultivated. Today, cantaloupes grown in California come from one of two regions: the Imperial Valley and the San Joaquin Valley. In the Imperial Valley, a more desert-like area, the melons are planted in December through March. In the San Joaquin Valley, in Central California, plantings begin in February and continue through July. Between these two areas, local cantaloupes are available from May through October. Today, California grows 70% of the U.S. muskmelon crop, with Texas and Arizona second and third in production.

Cantaloupes can:

  1. Prevent cataracts. Cantaloupes are an excellent source of vitamin A as beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Both nutrients are essential for the maintenance of healthy eyesight. Women who consume high amounts of vitamin A on a daily basis reduce their risk of developing cataracts by as much as 40%. On the contrary, women whose diets include a lot of salt, butter, and unhealthy fats have a higher risk of cataract surgery. Research has also shown that there may be a possible link between beta-carotene and cancer prevention.
  2. Fight free radicalsAside from being a significant source of vitamin A, cantaloupes are also good sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that functions in the water-soluble parts of the body.  Antioxidants help fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals spread damage to your cells, causing diseases and signs of aging. Vitamin C also strengthens your immune system by stimulating your white blood cells. Your white blood cells are responsible for killing viruses, bacteria and other foreign elements that seek to enter your body.
  3. Promote healthy lungs. Eating vitamin A-rich food like cantaloupe is also beneficial to smokers. If you’re a smoker or someone who is constantly exposed to second-hand smoke, then you might want to make cantaloupes a regular part of your diet. One of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke reportedly created a vitamin A deficiency in the human body. When you start incorporating more vitamin A into your diet, the deficiency is reversed and you also lower your risk of developing lung diseases like emphysema.
  4. Prevent cardiovascular disease. The high levels of magnesium in cantaloupe keeps your heart rhythm steady and  promotes normal blood pressure. Cantaloupes are also rich in a compound called adenosine. Adenosine is typically administered to patients who have heart disease, because it has blood-thinning properties. When your blood is thin, you can prevent blood-clotting in your cardiovascular system. The folate present in cantaloupes and all types of melons also help in preventing a heart attack by helping to prevent homocysteine build-up in your blood. Salicylic acid in cantaloupes prevents the formation of dangerous blood clots.
  5. Reduce stressCantaloupe might also be an ideal fruit to eat during those times when you are feeling anxious and stressed. The high levels of magnesium in cantaloupe helps maintain normal nerve function, and is essential for the biochemical reactions in your brain that boost your energy levels. Cantaloupe is also rich in potassium which normalizes your heartbeat and promotes the supply of oxygen to your brain. The folate in cantaloupes also allows your nerves to function properly. As a result, you feel more relaxed and focused.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Raw Cantaloupe

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin A

3382 IU

68%

vitamin C

36.7 mg

61%

magnesium

12 mg

13%

potassium

267 mg

8%

folate

21 µg

5%

fiber

0.9 g

4%

niacin

0.7 mg

4%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

4%

carbohydrates

8.8 g

3%

vitamin K

2.5 µg

3%

thiamine

0.041 mg

3%

protein

0.8 g

2%

manganese

0.041 mg

2%

copper

0.041 mg

2%

Calories

34

1.7%

calcium

9 mg

1%

sodium

16 mg

1%

phosphorus

15 mg

1%

selenium

0.4 µg

1%

iron

0.2 mg

1%

zinc

0.2 mg

1%

pantothenic acid

0.1 mg

1%

vitamin E

0.1 mg

1%

riboflavin

0.019 mg

1%

fat

0.2 g

0.3%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

lutein+xeazanthin

26 µg

carotene-ß

2020 µg

carotene-α

15 µg

crypto-xanthin-ß

1 µg

In the U.S., cantaloupe’s best season is from June until August. The rest of the year, cantaloupe is generally shipped from South America, so by the time it’s in stores, it will have been off the vine for a while.

When choosing cantaloupe you first want to pick it up. It should feel a little heavy for its size. The skin should appear webbed, and there shouldn’t be any dents or bruises. Look for a cantaloupe that’s tan, beige, or even slightly yellow. The lighter the color the better. Avoid cantaloupe that look too green. Check for softness on the blossom end by pressing with your thumbs. It should have some give, but not too much. Press the cantaloupe all over to make sure there are no squishy parts. A squishy area means it’s overripe. Smell the cantaloupe. Find the spot where the stem was attached, and take a whiff. A ripe cantaloupe will smell sweet and tasty (just like a slice of juicy cantaloupe). But the smell shouldn’t be overwhelming. If it is too smelly, it could be over-ripe.

Wash your hands and all utensils before and after cutting cantaloupe. Rinse a whole cantaloupe under cool running water, gently scrub the rind with a natural bristle brush, and then pat dry before you slice it open. This rinsing process helps remove unwanted bacterial contamination. Next, place the whole cantaloupe on a clean cutting surface. Cut off the top (stem end, where the vine was attached) of the cantaloupe and discard, because bacterial contamination is more likely to occur in this spot. Next, scoop out the seeds and slice your cantaloupe in whatever size sections you like. Because the rind is not going to be eaten, cut it off at this time.

Keep all cut cantaloupe in the refrigerator. Discard cut cantaloupe left sitting at room temperature for more than two hours, to avoid contamination by one of several micro-organisms, including Salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli 0157:H7.

Ripe cantaloupe is soft and incredibly sweet, and it can be enjoyed in a number of ways. How it is cut can make it appear even more visually appealing, and it can become the focal point of the buffet table. You can create impressive shapes, colorful fruit salads and more. Use these creative ways to cut and serve cantaloupe, and create something that looks as delicious as it tastes.

Cantaloupe halves can be cut into bowls to hold other types of fresh fruit. Begin by evenly slicing them in half. Scoop out the membrane as well as the seeds. Create jagged edges, or carefully create curved or scalloped edges. Fill the bowls with berries or chunks of other types of melon. The pieces that were cut away during the decorative edging process can also be tossed into the mix.

Melon ball tools are designed to create bite-size pieces of fruit. When trying new ways to cut and serve cantaloupe, use a cookie scoop instead. The scoop will make much larger balls that can be arranged in individual serving bowls along with other fresh fruit. They will look more like peach halves, and they can be speared with toothpicks along with other fruit to create specific shapes or designs. Use your imagination.

Cantaloupe that is not too soft can be shaved into curls. Use a melon balling tool to shave away enough at a time to make long spirals and curlicues. If you really want to get creative, use toothpicks to hold the curls together to create melon roses. They can be used to embellish fruit salads, gelatin salads and other appropriate desserts. If desired, use mint leaves to create fragrant foliage for the blooms.

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