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Produce News:

Julie Thayer
WSGC Produce Team Member

June has arrived, which means there is an abundance of tasty melons in the Willy Street Co-op produce department. This delectable fruit can be a refreshing treat, a perfect way to end a meal, or the main course itself. Here is a practical tour of the wonderful world of melons.

Origins and Seasonality
As members of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, melons grow on vines and contain many seeds. Watermelons are native to tropical Africa, while most other melons are indigenous to central Asia. Melons are now widely cultivated in warm climates around the world, with a peak season from June through September. We can look forward to delicious local melons from Tipi, Yesteryear, and West Star farms in August and September.

Varieties and Ripeness
Cantaloupes are beige in color with a fairly dense orange-pink flesh and scaly skin. Netted melons, such as cantaloupe and muskmelon, are ripe when they give off a sweet and fruity odor. Honeydews have pale green, sweet flesh and smooth, green-yellow skin. They mature slowly in storage and are ripe when yellow in color and fragrant. Galia melons are a hybrid, with characteristics of cantaloupe on the outside and honeydew on the inside. Choose firm melons with ends that yield to pressure and which emit a sweet fragrance.

Watermelons have crisp, pink-red flesh with smooth, green, mottled or striped skin. The sugar baby is a smaller, ultra-sweet, seedless version of watermelon. Although many try thumping, tapping, shaking, or smelling a watermelon, its appearance is the best indication for ripeness. Watermelons should be picked ripe since they do not continue to ripen after removal from the vine. Choose a watermelon with a smooth rind and yellow to creamy colored underside. A ripe watermelon usually has blunt ends, as pointy ends may indicate the melon is still maturing.

Storage and Safety
Cut or ripe cantaloupe, honeydew, and galia melons should be stored in refrigeration. Watermelon can be stored for two weeks at room temperature, but is best enjoyed chilled.

Salmonella grows naturally on the rinds of melon, specifically cantaloupe. The salmonella can be transferred to the flesh by the knife cutting it. Our health department recommends sanitizing your cutting board and knife with bleach, as well as washing whole uncut melons in a solution of bleach water. Use just a capful of bleach in an entire sink of water and let the melon air dry.
Here at Willy Street Co-op, we follow this same procedure for our cut melons. To protect the organic integrity of our fruit, we rinse our melons off before cutting them to dilute the level of bleach to four parts per million or less, same as our drinking water, according to Dave Engel, program director for the WI Chapter of OCIA.

Health Benefits
I’ve heard that one should consume melons apart from other foods. My research led to differing opinions. Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods, recommends eating melon alone since they digest very rapidly. According to Pitchford, consuming melons with other foods slows their digestion, causing fermentation. Jeremy A. Safron, author of The Raw Truth, disagrees. Safron states that in making melon soups, he has found that they combine quite well, providing great taste and ease of digestion. I suppose we all need to decide for ourselves what our individual digestive systems prefer. If you choose to combine melons, here is a recipe from The Raw Truth:

Peach-melon soup:
blend 1/2 of a large cantaloupe (seeded), 2 peaches (pitted), 1 1/2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Serve in scooped out cantaloupe bowls.

However you consume them, melons pack a punch nutritionally. Although watermelons are 96% water, they have tremendous health benefits, including a positive influence on the heart, bladder, and stomach. Watermelon also builds body fluids and can treat edema, canker sores, and kidney and urinary tract infections. It is rich in the antioxidant lycopene and a good source of vitamins A and C.

Although usually not consumed, the seeds and rind of watermelon are also very beneficial. Watermelon seeds act as a general diuretic and benefit the kidneys. They contain the compound cucurbocitrin, which dilates capillaries to help reduce high blood pressure. Next time you enjoy a piece of watermelon, try chewing the seeds well and swallowing them as opposed to engaging in a seed-spitting contest.

The rind of watermelon is rich in silicon and chlorophyll. Silicon improves pancreatic function, is essential for efficient calcium utilization, and increases bone strength. Chlorophyll is the substance that makes plants appear green. It has antibacterial, anti-fungal, detoxification, and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it builds blood, renews tissues, activates enzymes, and promotes healthy intestinal flora.

Both the seeds and the rind of a watermelon can be juiced along with the fruit to obtain these health benefits. Try juicing watermelon in combination with red grapes or a lemon to create a refreshing, nutritious summer beverage.

Willy Street Co-op: Your Melon Headquarters
If you’re in a hurry or want to enjoy melon on the go, look to our supply of cut melons, which we will aim to keep well-stocked throughout the season. And, as always, our produce staff is ready and willing to help you leave with the best produce possible. So next time someone says to you, “hey baby, nice melons!” tell them thanks, and that you got them at the Willy Street Co-op.

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