Cantaloupe Island

I am often astounded by the logic of Mother Nature. In the steamiest heat of mid-summer come the juiciest crops such as melons, when we need cooling hydration.  A ripe, slightly sweet cantaloupe can provide an ideal part of easy summer eating. With some usage hints, cantaloupe season will become too short as you expand its use!

Even for those of us who prepare meals for one, cantaloupe will be coveted seasonal farmers market purchases. Yes, melons do not have a long shelf life but look for smaller melons and know that portion sizes are usually larger than you might think, without guilt.  They are not a filling fruit because they are low in fiber and low in fat. They have few calories and lots of nutrition, especially Vitamin C and Vitamin A.

An advantage to shopping at the farmers market is you have the expert right there to help you pick out the ideal melon.  Ask the vendor selling them to help you pick a melon that is perfectly ripe, if you want to eat it that same day.  A general rule is a melon is at its best when you pick it up and it feels fuller and heavier that its size might suggest.  

Summer fruit salads can change by the week as berries, Door County cherries, and apples overlap with melons on market displays.  There are lots of different varieties of melons in the cantaloupe and honeydew genre that will have differing flavors, but they can be used similarly. 

Think beyond a fruit salad, while taking another hint from Mother Nature. Crops that you see at the farmers market at the same time, in this case during the hottest days of summer, can generally be served together.  Dice some cantaloupe with cucumber, English breakfast radish (the milder of the radishes), cilantro or parsley, even some mild green onions and toss with a dash of lime juice or a mild vinegar like rice vinegar or white wine vinegar for a mid-summer crunchy, hydrating salad.  This could be served atop a green salad or would pair well with a quickly sautéed fish, chicken breast or thigh piece. Or for a vegetarian protein, toss some black beans with cumin, chili powder and salt and toss with the melon cucumber blend. 

Use the chef trick of pairing fruits with a rich sausage or meat.  Melon season reminds me of the classic Italian pair of melon and prosciutto, a dry cured ham that is sliced super thin, I have taken this cue and enjoyed melon with a rich Wisconsin summer sausage or next to a bratwurst. 

If your chopped melon is becoming a bit overripe and soft, throw it in the blender.  Pour the cantaloupe liquid into ice cube trays then freeze and use as you would any ice cubes in water of other drink. I enjoy ginger ale where melon ice cubes are a great addition.