Before we were married, my husband and I frequented the San Francisco comedy scene of the 1980s. It was our idea of a hot date. Comedy was booming, and tons of great talent came through the City by the Bay. So many great moments stand out, but one in particular has become something of a family mystery. What is perhaps the funniest bit we have ever seen was performed by a comedian whose name we cannot remember. We have been periodically reciting excerpts from it for 30 years, but we have no idea who created it. Sadly, no amount of Googling has brought relief from what is clearly early-onset dementia.
I fear that we have built it up too much in our collective memory. The reason it does not exist on YouTube is because it probably isn’t as funny as we remember it. But I’m going to explain it to you anyway. It was called the Roll Call of Melons, and it was literally a roll call. The comedian spoke in the voice of a British field officer and read off the names of his melon ranks, adding hilarious commentary about each melon’s state of readiness.
See, I told you. Not funny. I cannot explain it any better than that, and I certainly can’t perform it for anyone, because it is the British officer voice that really made it funny, and no one wants to hear me attempt that. The problem is, I cannot ever cook with, eat or discuss melons without thinking of this bit. And, unfortunately, we are entering peak melon season. So in an homage to this mystery bit, I offer you my own Roll Call of Melons — less funny, but more useful than the original.
Canary This melon’s smooth, bright canary-yellow skin conceals a white flesh that tastes like a more flavorful version of honeydew. Its color is unimpressive, but when ripe, the flavor more than compensates.
Cantaloupe Also known as muskmelon, its name comes from Cantalupo, a walled village in the Sabine Hills near Rome, where it gained popularity. But like all melons, it likely originated in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. The netted rind and sweet orange flesh are standard fare at Sunday brunch year-round. But now — June through August — is when they are actually good.
Casaba Named for the former Turkish town of Kasaba (now Turgutlu), whence it was exported, this melon was one of the first cultivated by Europeans in the New World. It has a greenish-yellow furrowed rind, and a green flesh that tastes like cucumber, which makes sense, because both melons and cucumbers (and squash) are in the same family (Cucurbitaceae). The Tuscan cantaloupe is similar in flavor but has a ribbed rind.
Crenshaw This melon is a hybrid of the casaba and Persian varieties. It has smooth yellow skin, bright salmon-colored flesh and a spicy-sweet flavor.
Galia Netted on the outside like a cantaloupe, but pale green on the inside like a honeydew, this melon is a hybrid of the two. But it’s sweeter, juicier and more aromatic than either. When ripe, the skin takes on a slight orange hue.
Gaya This melon comes in several varieties, but most common are the white-and-green variegated ivory gaya and the dark-green chameleon gaya. They both have a white-to–pale orange flesh and are both very crisp. The flavors are reminiscent of mild bananas and pears.
Hami Also known as a Chinese muskmelon, it is oblong with sparsely netted skin and pale orange flesh. It is less sweet than a cantaloupe, but very crisp.
Honeydew Ubiquitous and disappointing, this melon finds its way into every fruit salad known to man. But there is a reason it is so overused — it’s always available and always sweet. In China it is known as the Wallace melon, because its seeds were brought to that country by Henry Wallace, one of FDR’s vice presidents and an agriculture expert. There is a yellow-skinned variety, aptly named golden honeydew, which has a slightly crisper texture.
Horned Also known as the kiwano, this alien-looking fruit has spiked orange skin and a seedy, gelatinous flesh. It has a tart, unripe banana flavor, which admittedly doesn’t sound good. But a little sugar and salt brings out a nice lemony cucumber essence. If you’re a Star Trek fan you’ll know it as the Golana melon from an episode of Deep Space Nine.
Korean Small and oblong, with bright orange stripes, this cute specimen has white flesh with a sweet flavor of honey and cucumber. Despite its name, it probably originated in India. The thin skin is frequently eaten along with the flesh and even seeds.
Persian This melon looks a lot like an elongated cantaloupe, but its skin is covered in finer netting. The interior is orange like a cantaloupe, but it has a milder flavor. It is often confused with an Afghan melon, which is similar, but has sparse netting and much less sugar.
Santa Claus This variety is also called the Christmas melon because it is harvested late and can be kept until December if chilled. It has a green mottled skin and pale orange flesh that is mildly sweet.
Sharlyn The white flesh of this melon tastes like a blend of cantaloupe and honeydew. The flavor is less sweet than either of those, but it takes on a more floral aroma as it ripens. It is oblong with netted green-to-orange rind.
Sprite This small Japanese melon, about the size of a softball, has white-yellow skin and pale ivory flesh. It is very crisp and very sweet, with a hint of pear.
Watermelon Everyone knows what these are. They hardly bear mentioning, eπxcept to say that you can get them with yellow flesh, seedless flesh, mini-size, jumbo-size and, if you’re willing to pay, square-shaped. A Japanese graphic designer started that trend by growing them inside clear plastic cubes. The idea was that they fit better in small refrigerators. The square fruit has become more of a novelty though, at three to four times the price of a lowly round melon. More shapes have since been created, including hearts, pyramids and Mickey Mouse.
Once you choose your melon, you’ll have to decide what to do with it. Lots of melon recipes pop up this time of year. Dishes like melon gazpacho (basically just puréed melon), melon salsa (chopped melon), melon granita (frozen melon) and melon carpaccio (thinly sliced melon) are about as creative as melon recipes get. My preferred preparation is simply melon chunks tossed with sea salt, ground black and pink peppercorns, a pinch of chile flakes and a squeeze of lime to enhance the melon’s sweetness. Melon also lends itself well to a drizzle of honey, a dollop of yogurt, a crumble of toasted nuts and a sprinkle of fresh mint.
After you have enjoyed the sweet flesh of a summer melon, don’t forget to save the rind for melon-rind pickles. A Southern treat, these tangy nuggets make terrific accompaniments to grilled meats and classic barbeque.
These pickles are made with the melon’ s outer flesh, close to the skin. The tough outer skin is removed with a peeler, unless you’ re using a melon with very thin, edible skin, such as a Korean melon. The pickling method used is fairly standard, but the addition of charred spices adds a layer of sophistication that plain, dry spices lack. Once you master this technique, try the same recipe with fresh fennel, rainbow carrots or radishes.
4 cups of melon rind, skinned if necessary
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
1 cinnamon stick
3 or 4 star anise
1. Place melon rind in decorative jars or plastic containers with fitted lids.
2. In a small saucepan, combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt and ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
3. Using tongs, hold the cinnamon sticks, and then the star anise, over an open flame until they ignite. Allow to burn for a few seconds, until charred, then drop them in the simmering pickling liquid. Remove the liquid from the heat and pour it over the melon rinds. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1 day. The texture will stay crisp for about a week. After a while, when you find they are too soft, add them to your favorite relish, chow-chow or chutney recipe.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and the author of Mug Meals: More Than 100 No-Fuss Ways to Make a Delicious Microwave Meal in Minutes. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.