Cantaloupe gets a bad rap. It’s not wholly undeserved – most people’s primary encounter with it is in those sad year-round “fruit salads” you can get at Starbucks and Au Bon Pain, which might as well be called melon salads since 95% of their contents are sour, hard, off-season cantaloupe and honeydew chunks. (And maybe a few red grapes for color. Oooo.) But the fact is, those are often the best option when all you want is a little snack that isn’t loaded with sugar and your choices are between Starbucks and the bodega’s fine selection of potato chips and cookies. So you buy the fruit/melon disaster salad, eat it, fill with sorrow and displeasing melon, and vow to stop eating this shit once and for all.
Haters, I was one of you. Despite having grown up on delicious seasonal melon bought in summer, I too had eaten one too many shitty fruit salads. I too believed melons were non-delicious, good only for use in … well, out-of-season fruit salads that need padding, quite frankly. That all changed yesterday, when a chance encounter reminded me of the glory of a ripe cantaloupe.
By “chance encounter,” I mean “my mom bought one, cut it in half and left it in the fridge.” It’s not like I met a cantaloupe in a dark alley and ate it crouched in the shadows of a doorway out of reach of the floodlights. I found it and decided it would make an awesome midnight snack. But holy shit, you guys. I guess I haven’t had ripe cantaloupe in years, which makes sense – I went to college 800 miles from home and never bought it for myself, and we definitely haven’t had them around the house for the past few years. It is as unlike sad-fruit-salad-aloupe as something that is still in the same food family can be.
For one, it’s soft, tender and juicy (as opposed to hard, crunchy and juiceless). The seeds scoop out at the first touch of spoon, the meat is firm but gives way easily in your teeth, and there’s so much juice that it collects in the bottom of the melon as you scoop out bites. (I’m assuming you’re using the melon itself as a bowl, as I did. Much easier. Obviously a sign of intelligent design.) Then there’s the flavor. Far from sour and one-dimensional, it is extremely sweet and complex. It tastes nothing like those stupid chunks. Fuck those chunks. This is a whole ‘nother thing entirely.
What I’m trying to say, guys, is give melon a chance. Buy a nice cantaloupe, preferably from the farmers’ market or the organic section of your local supermarket. Let it sit out until you can smell its ripeness (that, for your reference, is how you can tell the ripeness of cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and mangoes, as well as other fruits, I’m sure). Keep letting it sit until that smell is strong, but we’re not yet at rotten. Then cut it open and shove your face in. You’re welcome. I’ll wait.