Summertime is just around the corner, and with that comes melon season! There’s nothing quite like a cold, juicy watermelon or cantaloupe on a warm summer day. Currently, farmers are planting watermelon and cantaloupe. While we’re waiting for them to grow, let’s learn more about these delicious fruits (or are they a veggie?)!
North Carolina ranks 8th in watermelon production, growing 5,900 acres of watermelon and producing more than 180 million pounds! That sounds like a lot of watermelon, but watermelon is the most popular melon, so it is probably a good thing that NC grows that many.
There are many different types of watermelon, and not all of them are red inside! Some are yellow and others are orange. Some have seeds and others are seedless. Which do you prefer?
Team Veggie or Fruit?
Regardless, of the color or seeds, hopefully we can all agree that watermelon is pretty delicious. What we may not agree on is if it is a fruit or vegetable. Botanically speaking, it is a fruit because the seeds are inside; however, by that definitions, tomatoes and squash are also fruits, and that doesn’t seem right. If you look at the dictionary definition of a vegetable, it is anything grown from a plant, so that’s not helpful at all. The culinary definition decides if produce is a fruit or a vegetable is based on sweetness. If it is sweet and higher in fructose, it’s a fruit. Yet, the debate of what is a vegetable and what is a fruit is still not always clear. In some cases, the USDA determines what it is and sometimes the courts do. If we are determining what watermelon is via the USDA, it is a vegetable. Are you confused, because we sure are. Watermelon is delicious. That’s all we know. We also know a few watermelon facts:
- Watermelon is a part of the gourd family
- It originated from Africa
- David Livingstone (missionary and explorer) found great tracts of watermelon growing in the Kalahari Desert in the 1850’s.
- North Carolina has a watermelon queen. Every year, a new queen is chosen to be a spokesperson for the industry and compete for the title of National Watermelon Queen. In 2019, Katleyn Honeycutt, from Angier, NC won the national title!
- The NC state record for largest watermelon was grown by Andrew Vial. The melon weighed 341.5lbs!
While watermelon is the most popular melon, it shouldn’t steal all the limelight. It’s cousin the cantaloupe is delicious too!
Rock melon, muskmelon, mushmelon, sweet melon, spanspek…cantaloupe goes by many names, depending on where you are from. It should be noted, though, that cantaloupe is actually a type of muskmelon. Honeydew is also a muskmelon. Like the watermelon, they are part of the gourd family.
History of Cantaloupe
Originating in Persia, the cantaloupes eventually made their way to America via Christopher Columbus. He planted seeds near settlements and gave them to native people. The name cantaloupe comes from a town in Italy—Cantalupo di Sabina. The old papacy of Rome had a country estate there where they grew many fruits. Pope Paul II was obsessed with melons. He’d even get stomach aches by eating too many.
Cantaloupe in NC
While North Carolina is not a top producing cantaloupe state, we do still grow them and have a rich history with them. In the late 19th century, the community of Ridgeway, NC raised many kinds of fruits and berries. Among them was cantaloupe. They were soon famed for the sweetness of their cantaloupe, loading 14 railroad cars a day with cantaloupes at their peak. Today, not many grow the Ridgeway cantaloupe. However, the community still celebrates the fruit during Ridgeway Cantaloupe Festival, held in July.
NC wasn’t just known for their Ridgeway cantaloupes; we’ve also been known to grow record breaking cantaloupes. In 2018, Danny Vester grew a world-champion cantaloupe, weighing 65.9 pounds! The next year, this record was broken by 2 pounds by a cantaloupe in Kentucky.
Choosing the Perfect Melon
Have you ever gone to the grocery store or maybe the garden, thumped a few melons, and just picked one somewhat randomly, because really you aren’t sure what the best melon is? Here are some tips next time you’re picking a melon.
- Pick it up. A watermelon should be heavy for its size.
- Find a watermelon with a yellow spot—that one is ripe.
- Go ahead and thump it. It should sound hollow not dull.
- Check the tail (the stem). If it is green, it was picked a bit too early. A dried, brown stem means it is ripe.
- Pick it up. It should be heavy for its size and firm, but not rock hard.
- Check the color. You want a beige and avoid green.
- Smell it. Ripe cantaloupes should smell sweet. Be careful that it isn’t too smelly. That could be an indicator of an overripe melon.
- Check the stem “scar”. An outie means it isn’t ripe. An innie is ripe.
Happy melon growing, picking and eating! Melons are delicious, nutritious, and refreshing!