Archive for Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tips on how to pick a good melon

August 25, 2004


What do you look for when selecting melons to make sure they are good inside?

When selecting summer melons, avoid those with bruised, soft, watery, pitted, shriveled, punctured, cracked or decayed rinds. Here are some additional ways to select a quality product:

Watermelon. Look for a symmetrical watermelon that is heavy for its size and has a hard smooth rind. Choose a melon with a firm yellowish or creamy underside -- not white or pale green. It should have a dried stem and be fragrant and slightly soft at the blossom end. Thumping is not a reliable test for choosing watermelons. An unripe one may give a ringing metallic sound when thumped, while both mature and over-ripe, mushy watermelons may give a dull thud. If the melon has been cut open, look for firm, juicy, deep-colored flesh and dark seeds, if any. Avoid flesh with white streaks or a reddish-tan color, or that is either too dry or watery.

Crenshaw melons. They have a deep golden yellow, smooth rind and an oval shape.

Cantaloupe and Persian melons. When ripe, these melons have a sweet juicy orange flesh. Choose one with a tan or yellow, not green, rind and thick coarse netting. It should have a distinctive, sweet smell and yield to slight pressure at the blossom end. Look for one with a smooth depression at the stem end, with no remnants of stem remaining.

Honeydew melon. Choose a symmetrical honeydew melon that is heavy for its size with a creamy yellow rind, a slightly soft blossom end, and a soft feel -- not hard and smooth. Look for a melon with light green juicy flesh. Honeydews only have a faint fragrance.

Casaba melons. They are large round melons with a bright yellow, ridged rind. They have creamy white flesh with a sweet juicy flavor, but little to no aroma.

How do you handle, ripen and preserve summer melons?

Melons do not sweeten after they have been removed from the vine, but will become softer and more mellow.

Uncut melons can be stored longer if kept at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator. Store from one to seven days, or if kept at between 45 degrees and 50 degrees, up to three weeks.

Once cut, melons become a potentially hazardous food. Therefore, cut melons must be refrigerated at 41 degrees or lower. If the cut melon is taken to a picnic or gathering, make sure the melon remains chilled at 41 degrees or lower by placing the melon container into a bowl of ice. If not on ice, the cut melon can be at room temperature for no more than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is 90 degrees or above.

Cover cut melon pieces with plastic and store between two and three days in the fruit crisper drawer of a refrigerator, which is warmer than the rest of the refrigerator. Melons kept colder than about 40 degrees may become discolored and have a disagreeable flavor.

To preserve melons, place seeded melon chunks in a sweet mixture of 1/2 cup sugar per 1 cup water, place in a freezer container with 1/2 inch air space, seal, date and freeze. Thawed melon will be mushy, but is suitable for use in slushes or smoothies.

To prepare summer melons for serving, chill melons before eating for the best flavor. Wash the dirt from the rind with water before putting it in the refrigerator. Before cutting, rinse the rind again under cold running water.

What is the nutritional value of the summer melons?

Summer melons are low in calories and contribute vitamins, minerals, pigments and antioxidants to the diet. Here are the nutrients contained in one serving or 1/2 cup:

Watermelon. 25 calories, 0 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat. It is a good source of vitamin C and lycopene, a healthful phytochemical which recent medical research suggests may help protect against certain forms of cancer. At 92 percent water, watermelon is the perfect treat in hot weather, replenishing body fluids lost in exercise.

Cantaloupe or muskmelon. 30 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C.

Honeydew melon. 30 calories, 0 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat. It is an excellent source of vitamin C.

Crenshaw and casaba melons. 20 calories, 1 gram protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat. It is an excellent source of vitamin C.

Here's a flavorful salad that is in our "Fix It Fresh!" recipe series that uses fresh fruits and vegetables, including melon. I hope you enjoy it as much as the group did at the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program that I presented at the Babcock Place Meal Site last week. I'll be sharing the last program in the series, entitled "Fall Harvest," from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Babcock Place Meal Site, 1700 Mass. Everyone is welcome.

Chicken, Rice and Fruit Salad


1 cup cooked, plain, white or brown rice without added salt, or enough uncooked rice to yield 1 cup cooked

2 tablespoons fresh (or 2 teaspoons dried) finely chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 clove finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon fat-free Ranch or French dressing

2 tablespoons fat-free salad dressing, i.e. Miracle Whip

1 cup bite size fresh cantaloupe/muskmelon or apple chunks

1/3 cup red or purple seedless grape halves

1/2 cup chopped celery

6 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) cooked, cooled chicken (no bones or skin), cut into bite-size pieces

6 lettuce leaves, if desired

If not using leftover plain rice on hand, cook rice according to package directions, without added salt. Chill.

In a serving bowl, mix parsley, black pepper, garlic, dressing and mayonnaise together.

Add cooled rice, cantaloupe, grapes, celery and chicken. Stir gently.

Serve cold, on a bed of clean lettuce leaves, if desired.

Cover and refrigerate leftovers within two hours.

Note: Try using instant brown rice, a quick-cooking whole grain, instead of white rice in this recipe to add extra color, flavor, texture and nutrients.

Nutrition facts for one serving which is 1 1/4 cups: 220 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 210 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, and 19 grams protein. Two carbohydrate choices per serving.

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 fruit, and 2 lean meat.

Yield: 3 servings.

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