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Make It Work: Cooking with Under-Ripe Melons

By Judith Hausman, Urban Farm Contributor

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock

If your garden produces under-ripe watermelon, try your hand at a crisp and refreshing salad: Feta cheese, olives and mint or basil tossed with watermelon chunks.

Melons are a challenge to grow around here. Their creeping vines cover lots of land in a suburban setting, and if the rain is wrong, they are subject to the mildews that other cucurbits suffer from. Melons also often don’t get the long, hot time they need to ripen and sweeten. Many gardeners don’t bother growing them, given the yield they’d get.

In our coop garden this year, we have somehow gotten some of this right. We did, however, have to spend a couple of hours with jumbled planting records and seed catalogues in hand to backtrack what we had planted, what had survived, and where the pumpkins and winter squash were. Then, when we cut open two samples that seemed to be ready, we saw that the recent rains had swollen small varieties without ripening them.

It’s unlikely that we’ll have the heat we need now to make these melons as sweet as they should be. Nights are cooling, and the maple trees are just starting to show a bit of red. So how do you eat an under-ripe melon?

All of us are mothers of invention in the coop (so to speak, gentlemen), so we’ve already been experimenting and sharing. Here are some of my fellow gardeners’ great ideas:

  • A now-classic salad of feta cheese, olives, mint or basil and watermelon. This dish reminds us that that the melons are the cousins of cucumbers.
  • Just keep it all in the family: melon, cukes and mint leaves. On the other hand, melon, dark cherries and basil are terrific together, too.
  • A Thai-style salad with a little hot pepper, fish sauce and lime juice. It works for under-ripe honeydew as well as green papaya and under-ripe mango.
  • A Japanese-style dressing of sugar and rice-wine vinegar. Salt, drain and rinse the melon slices first, as you would with cucumbers.
  • A salad of melon balls, goat cheese and a dressing of sherry vinegar and toasted sesame oil (saw this invention of Kevin D. Weeks in The New York Times.)
  • Pickled, sliced melon. Pickling watermelon rind and candying pumpkin “chips” are traditional Southern conserve. Why not brine or sugar to firm slices of the fruit itself?
  • Cut up and dose melon chunks with liqueur and/or simple syrup. Midori is a sweet, melon-based liqueur; or use Amaretto or a berry-flavored liqueur. For syrup, simmer a vanilla bean, lavender sprigs or mint leaves in equal parts sugar and water. Strain and cool before pouring the syrup on cut-up melon.
  • Grill thick slices of melon. Then, sprinkle a little sugar or chili powder on them.
  • Make an aqua fresca. Cut the flesh of a 2-pound melon into a blender, along with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, about 2 cups water and a handful of ice cubes. Whirrrrr and drink. Add some plain yogurt for a smoothie version.

When you poke around a little and experiment, nothing, including under-ripe melons, needs to go to waste in the garden!

Read more of The Hungry Locavore »

Give us your opinion on Make It Work: Cooking with Under-Ripe Melons.
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Speaking of melons. A couple of years ago I was on an 11-day/75-mile hike in NM. On the trail saw a plant similar to a melon. More specific, looks like a watermelon, though at the time (July) it was a little smaller than a golf ball. Wonder if it is a "wild watermelon"? Everything points directly to a watermelon; the leaves, the stripes.
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 4/5/2014 10:41:48 AM
Good to know
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 9/12/2012 7:01:23 AM
Interesting ideas, can't wait to try some of them.
Carl, l, CA
Posted: 12/10/2011 10:31:56 AM
All that heat in Vegas probably means very sweet melons for you!
Judy, South Salem, NY
Posted: 10/5/2011 5:25:26 AM

About the Blogger

Judith Hausman

Judith Hausman
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City 'burbs.

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