Muskmelons, so called for their strong, sweet fragrance when ripe, are technically a vegetable, related to cucumbers and squash. Their origins are steeped in mystery, and today there are at least 30 varieties being grown around the world.
It is not known precisely where melons originated—theories range from the Middle East to India, Central Asia, and North Africa. Cultivated since ancient times, melons were considered a sacred food by the Egyptians, Melon seeds were exchanged throughout trade routes of the ancient world. By the 1st century, melons were cultivated over three continents, with many varieties being bred. Columbus carried melon seeds on his second voyage to North America, while about the same time King Charles VIII of France is said to have introduced melons into northern Europe. English settlers planted melon in the gardens of Virginia and Massachusetts colonies, and it was adopted by Native Americans by the mid-17th century.
Melons are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as folate, potassium, and antioxidants.
Whole, uncut melon can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week, or at room temperature for up to two weeks. Cut melon should be wrapped or enclosed tightly, refrigerated, and used within 5 days.
The herbaceous sweetness of musk melons makes them a good pairing with savory dishes as well as sweet. Serve ripe melon slices with thinly sliced cured meats, such as prosciutto, with a drizzle of olive oil on top. Toss melon chunks with shrimp and other seafood, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro for a sweet take on ceviche. Combine melon with other summer vegetables such as sweet corn, avocado, cucumbers, zucchini, and bitter leafy greens like radicchio and endive. Crush melon for use in Aguas Frescas or spritzers, muddle it with herbs for a summer cocktail or freeze with chopped herbs into popsicles.
Peel the melon and chop into chunks. Toss melon chunks with shaved red onion, honey, white vinegar, salt, chopped mint, and chili flakes. Serve with burrata mozzarella or mascarpone cheese.
If you find that your ripe melon lacks flavor, simply sprinkle slices with salt before eating. The salt will bring out the flavor and highlight the melon’s sweetness.