You’re 10 years old. You come home from an endless day of playing out in the sun. You’re worn out from swimming. You smell the barbecue firing up. In front of you awaits the perfect, juicy treat, the beacon of summer — cantaloupe.
A member of the gourd family, cantaloupe was originally known as “muskmelon” due to its mouthwatering, musky smell. After migrating from Africa to Western Europe, cantaloupe gained its signature name when the Roman Catholic Church began growing it in the papal gardens of Cantalupo, Italy. Cantaloupe arrived to North America in the 16th century and primarily grows in California and Arizona.
Cantaloupe is more than just a juicy snack. In fact, a 6-ounce serving of cantaloupe provides 100 percent of your daily needs for both vitamins A and C. According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant that plays a major role in immune health, collagen development and iron absorption. Vitamin A works to keep your vision in tip-top shape. At a modest 50 calories, cantaloupes are an excellent source of dietary fiber without adding to your daily fat and cholesterol count. What better way to heal a skinned knee than with some succulent, comforting cantaloupe?
Catch cantaloupe during its peak season of August and September in Washington. Choose fragrant, symmetrical cantaloupes with no visible bruises and that feel heavy for their size. Contrary to popular belief, the “thump and shake” method is not a good indicator of quality. While melons will not get sweeter post-harvest, one way to increase their juiciness is to leave them out at room temperate (whole and skin intact) for two to three days.
Much like other melons, cantaloupe presents special food safety concerns because it is grown on the ground and has an internal environment that harmful bacteria love. Take extra measures to prevent foodborne illness, such as washing cutting boards and utensils before and after each use. Cut cantaloupe left at room temperature for more than two hours is not safe to eat. To prepare, wash, remove the rind, cut the cantaloupe into pieces and store in a plastic bag or covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to five days. Note: Storing cantaloupe without a plastic bag may cause other foods in the refrigerator to take on a cantaloupe taste. Depending on your love of cantaloupe, this may or may not be a bonus.
Enjoy cantaloupe in slices or cubes, or better yet, break out that melon baller that’s been collecting dust in your cooking-gadget drawer (after washing it, of course!). Cantaloupe is an excellent guest ingredient in a summer salad or on the grill. Blend it in a chilled gazpacho, add it to a kebab or serve it arranged on a platter with prosciutto. “So Easy to Preserve” by the Cooperative Extension at The University of Georgia has a recipe for Cantaloupe Pickles (as well as a no-sugar-added version) if you’d like to explore a new flavor profile to a classic favorite. Copies are available through the WSU-Extension Office for $30.
When in doubt, simply cut and enjoy this delicious summer treat while it’s fresh. As Chef Scotty says, “Why mess with perfection?”
For additional cantaloupe recipes and serving suggestions, check out Chef Scotty’s Market Fresh Recipes at http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=8163. The FINI Fresh Match program provides help to SNAP consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. Find out more at: clark.wa.gov/public-health/snap-farmers-markets.
Claire Nichols, RD, is a Clark County WSU Extension Master Food Preserver. For additional recipes, food preservation and food safety information visit http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=1134. Have questions? Call MFP Helpline: 360-397-6060, ext. 5366, or join Facebook discussion group “WSU Home Food Preservers – Clark County.”