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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cantaloupe:

The cantaloupe is the most popular variety of melon in the U.S.    The North American cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon  with its net-like (reticulated) skin covering.  The European cantaloupe is lightly ribbed with a green gray skin.  The name "cantaloupe" comes to us via French from the Italian "Cantalupo", which was a papal county near Rome.  The cantaloupe melon originated in Iran, India, and Africa.  It was first cultivated in Greece 5000 years ago and in Egypt 4000 years ago.

Growing up and helping in the grocery store, what I remember most about cantaloupes is the  box they came in.  It was a wooden crate that consisted of  two inch slats that were placed about two inches apart.  It allowed for good air circulation and you could see the fruit.  To open it we used a crate hammer which had a double head at one end and a claw at the other, so you could remove a couple of slats.   Today you don't see the wooden crates very often.   It is mostly cardboard boxes but with  large cut-outs to allow ventilation.  As a kid with a vivid imagination, I would think of all the things I could build with enough cantaloupe crates.

Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a very good source of potassium and fiber.  Cantaloupes contain a wide variety of anti-oxidants and phytonutrients.  The surface skin of the cantaloupe, however, can contain harmful bacteria particularly Salmonella.  It is important to thoroughly wash and scrub the outside of the cantaloupe before cutting.   In 1941 in a market in Peoria, Illinois cantaloupe was found to contain the best and highest quality penicillin, after a worldwide search.

Select cantaloupe that are heavy for their size.  On the stem end where it was connected to the vine the cantaloupe should give slightly to pressure from the thumb.   The other end, the blossom end, can be smelled for its aroma, another sign of ripeness.   You can set out your cantaloupe on the counter  at home for a couple of days to let it ripen some more.   Once you are ready to cut the melon wash it thoroughly and cut in half  from end to end.   Using a spoon carefully remove the seeds.   Don't dig into the flesh and scrape it.   You'll remove the sweetest part of the melon.  It's OK to leave a couple of seeds.  They're edible.   You can then cut the melon some more and remove the skin with a sharp knife.  Refrigerate cut cantaloupe for less that 3 days. 

Cantaloupe is usually eaten as fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice cream or custard.

So..... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good:

Cantaloupe with prosciutto


1 ripe cantaloupe
16 thin slices of prosciutto (Italian ham)

Wash your cantaloupe thoroughly and cut in half end to end.  Carefully remove the seeds.  Cut each half in half, and then each quarter in half to yield 16 slices.  Remove the skin from each piece and wrap the middle of the slice with a piece of prosciutto.