Both orange-fleshed cantaloupe and juicy, pale green honeydew melons fall under the banner of muskmelons, the large and fragrant fruit of trailing vines native to Asia. Depending on the variety, their protective rinds range from creamy white to pale yellow, celadon to dark green, or a striped or speckled combination of all these hues. The flesh of muskmelons can be ivory, yellow, orange, or green. Heritage varieties much sought for their intensely flowery fragrance and complex flavors include the pale, oval Crenshaw; the green-striped Charentais from France; and the round, wrinkled, bright yellow casaba.
Muskmelons are at their peak from mid- to late summer. They are popular in fruit salads, on antipasti platters with prosciutto, puréed to make drinks, or sliced into wedges as a refreshing treat during summer’s hottest months.
Ripe cantaloupe and honeydew have a strong, sweet fragrance and give slightly when pressed at both ends. A fully ripe melon may have tiny cracks at the stem end. Choose melons that are heavy for their size and free of deep blemishes, shriveled peel, or soft, moldy areas.
Store ripe melons in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Cut the melons lengthwise or crosswise in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. To keep the melon moist, peel and cut off slices only as they are needed. Melons taste sweeter if served at room temperature or only slightly chilled. Remove them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano (Weldon Owen, 2010).