When was the last time you said this to your produce manager or farm stand owner? Heck, would you even know if their melons were “lovely”?
I frequently have people ask: “what should I look for when choosing…._______(fill in the blank)?”. This is the height of melon season and with so many flavorful and sweet options to choose from, it’s helpful to know how to select one that will taste as good (or even better) than it looks.
Because most fruits won’t ripen once they’ve been picked, it’s important to hone in on the right indicators of ripeness:
1. Aroma is one of the best indicators for most fruits. One of my most favorite aromas is a ripe aromatic cantaloupe. You can almost taste the juicy sweet flesh when you smell it! Crenshaw and some of the other soft-skinned melons like Honeydew will also exude an aroma.
2. Skin: When selecting cantaloupe and other muskmelons, look at the color beneath the “netting” of the skin. You want to select a melon that has a nice golden brown/tan color. If the color under the netting is green, it’s not ripe. The color patch on the underside of a watermelon is a good indicator as well. If the patch where the melon was resting on the ground is white, then it’s immature and probably not sweet. If the patch is yellow, it’s more mature and will be sweeter.
3. Blossom-End: Gently press on the blossom-end of the melon and see if there is a gentle yield to the pressure of your finger. If not, it’s not ripe. A ripe melon generally has a slight yield to the gentle pressure of a thumb pressed against the blossom end. Note: If your thumb should go through the skin it’s TOO ripe (probably rotten). Put it back, pretend like nothing happened, and hope that no one saw you!
4. Thumping: While my mom always used her thumb and middle finger to “thump” a watermelon, I have had two different people from produce stands recently tell me to pat the watermelon with the open palm of my hand, in a motion similar to playing the bongo drums. If the sound is deeper, more of a baritone sound, then it’s ripe. If the sound of the melon is more of a tenor-note, it’s not as ripe, and a bass-note will be over-ripe and mushy. The higher note is caused by the denser flesh, the lower note is caused by the greater open pores of the ripe melon.
5. “Straw-Dowsing or Divining”: I don’t really know how to describe this as it sounds more like folklore to me than logical but I’m going to offer it anyway. In a manner similar to dowsing or divining for water where you hold a wire or forked branch in front of you to find water, the idea here is that you rest a broom straw on a melon running cross-wise. If it rotates in line with the length of the melon, it is ripe. If it doesn’t, the melon is not ripe. I had never heard this until I was recently at a farmers market and asked a vendor for their recommendations on selecting a ripe watermelon. He said an old farmer had taught him this trick and he didn’t believe it either until he tried it on a pair of cantaloupes where one was ripe and the other was unripe. The straw didn’t turn on the unripe cantaloupe. After doing a quick search on the internet I’m finding lots of people that seem to swear by this method. I recently tried it with the straw alone to see if it even moved and on a few it did. I didn’t have the benefit of cutting into the melons to taste and compare (figured the produce stand wouldn’t like me slicing into a bunch of different ones). Guess I’ll have to try it on a couple of cantaloupes to see the taste comparison or invite 30 people over to have a watermelon tasting. I’m curious to hear if any of you have heard or or tried this method? Can anyone share experience with this?
So there you go…now you’re armed with a little knowledge to make you more confident and capable of determining who has the fairest melons in the land!
If you there are additional tips that you have found to be useful I’d love to hear them! Especially if anyone has used that straw technique.