In the vast Cucurbitaceae family, the melon, or Cucumis melo, is one of the most difficult species to classify as it is so polymorphic. The melon can be monoecious (separate male and female flowers, but united on the same plant), hermaphroditic (both male and female flowers) or a mixture. It can have ridged or angular stems, oval or round leaves, fruits of various sizes, with smooth, rough or warty skin, with white, yellow, green or orange flesh, sweet, tart or tasteless.
There are several thousand varieties: Astrakhan melon, originating in southern Anatolia, Persian red melon (small variegated fruit), snake melon (similar to a cucumber that can exceed 1 meter in length), watermelon with green flesh (honeydew, for Americans), melon Piel del Sapo (“toad”, in Spanish), winter melon or even the tasty cantaloupe (or charentais) melon, often hybridized with the embroidered and great favorite of the French.
Its origin is indistinct, since wild type melons are found from Africa to Southeast Asia. According to Georges Gibault (History of Vegetables, 1912), “of all the fruits obtained by the gardener’s art, the melon is the one that has most excited the gluttony of men. There is nothing like a good melon with tender, melting, sweet, vinous flesh to delight the palate of a gourmet”.
One of the rare fruits consumed as a starter rather than a dessert, the melon has become, in Italy and France, associated with dry ham, preferably from Parma. A tradition that finds its source in ancient dietary precepts recommending the consumption of fresh and aqueous products at the start of a meal, rebalanced with salt, fat and wine. A twist of the pepper mill and a few mint or basil leaves add even more to this summer classic.
If a good ripe melon is enough in itself, it also bends to all kinds of transformations: stewed or mixed in juice (when it is too ripe), marinated, candied in the oven, flame-grilled or grated fresh julienned when green – seasoned with chilli, spring onions and lemon, it goes divinely with shellfish. Without forgetting its peelings, which can be made into an excellent flavored vinegar.