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Food preservation methods for cantaloupe, honeydew and other melons

Melons at Seattle farmers market
Melons at Seattle farmers market

Melons such as cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are usually enjoyed fresh in late summer and early fall. But there are several food preservation methods for melons so that you can enjoy them after the growing season has past. Some of the best food preservation methods for melons are drying, and pickling. You can also freeze the juice, ferment it into wine, or use it to make a delicious jelly. Find recipes below for all of these food preservation methods.

To prepare melon: Scrub the surface before cutting because the knife can drag bacteria from the surface to the inside if you don’t scrub it off first. Rinse melon well under plenty of plain, cold, running water. If possible, let it air-dry in a clean colander or rack, or pat dry with paper towels before cutting. One pound of melon is equivalent to 1/3 of a medium melon, 1 to 1½ cups cubed, ¾ to 1¼ cups purée, or ½ to ¾ cups juice.

Dried melon slices: Dried melon—which Marco Polo once described as “sweet as honey”—makes a melt-in-your-mouth snack. Drying intensifies their aromatic, musky flavors. Cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon in particular provide distinctive, ethereal tastes. Prepare melon, peel, seed, and slice thick or paper thin. Preheat an oven or food dehydrator to 130°F to 140°F. Place melon slices on drying trays. Dry thick slices until pliable and no moisture is visible when squeezed or cut. Dry paper-thin slices until crisp. Cool 30 minutes, or until no longer warm. Sore in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for about 2 months. Freeze for longer storage.

Dried Melon Seeds: Scoop melon seeds from a halved cantaloupe, honeydew or other muskmelons (not watermelons) and place in a large bowl of water. Rub seeds to loosen stringy fibers. Discard any seeds that float to the top. Remove seeds from water and rinse in a sieve. Repeat soaking, rubbing, and rinsing in several changes of water, until seeds are clean. Place seeds in a small saucepan, and add 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt for every cup of seeds. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain seeds and place on drying trays. Dry thoroughly until they rattle.

Melon Seed Drink (Horchata): This sweet, refreshing beverage has a faintly nutty flavor. The melon seeds thicken the drink slightly and provide healthful benefits. It’s a great way to use the seeds from cantaloupe, honeydew and other melon, as well as pumpkin or squash seeds, which are often discarded. Put 1 cup melon pulp and seeds, 3 cups cold water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or to taste) and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice (or to taste) in a blender jar and process at top speed until smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar and lime juice if necessary. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to blend flavors. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pour over ice, and serve. Makes 1 serving; recipe may be doubled. To make horchata with dried melon and melon seeds, substitute 3/4 cup dried melon pieces and 1/4 cup dried melon seeds for the fresh melon pulp and seeds. Proceed as for fresh melon in the preceding recipe.

Dried melon leather: Leathers are made from purées that are spread thin and dried until supple and chewy. For best results with melon, combine with a puree of apples, apricots, cherries, mangos, nectarines, peaches, pineapples, or plums. Simply wash and cut melon into chunks and purée in a blender until very smooth. Combine 2 cups melon purée with 2 cups applesauce or other “best” fruit purée listed above. If desired, add 2 tablespoons sugar or honey, and/or 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Preheat oven or food dehydrator to 130°F to 140°F. Line drying tray with plastic wrap. Spread purée 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch thick on liner. Dry until leather is evenly pliable and firm with no soft spots. Peel from liner while still warm. Cut or roll into serving pieces. Cool before wrapping pieces individually. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place up to 2 months. Freeze for longer storage.

Pickled Melon: Select melons that are full size but green and firm to the touch, including stem area. Wash, halve, and scoop out seeds. Cut about 2 pounds washed melon into 1-inch slices, remove peel, and cut into 1-inch cubes; or, use a melon baller to scoop out balls of melon. In a saucepan, combine 2 ¼ cups cider vinegar, 1 cup water, and 2 ounces fresh peeled and sliced ginger slices, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Pour hot liquid over melon cubes. Cover and refrigerate melon for 12 to 18 hours. Strain vinegar solution into a large saucepan. Stir in 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 2/3 brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional), and bring to a boil. Add melon and ginger slices, and return to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, or until melon turns translucent. Cool, cover, and refrigerate up to 1 month. Makes 2 pints.

Canned Melon. Melons are a low acid fruit. There are no safe home canning recommendations available for low-acid fruits, including bananas, figs, Asian pears, cantaloupe and other melons, ripe papayas, and ripe mangos, as well as coconuts, pumpkin, and winter squash. If you want to can melon, you must pickle it. The previous recipe for pickled melon may be canned. Fiill hot canning jars with the hot melon chunks and pickling liquid; adjust headspace to 1-nch. Process pickled melon pints for 15 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet).

Macerated melon: The word macerate comes from the Latin macerare, which means “to soften or soak.” Macerating is essentially a pickling method. The technique infuses flavor into either the solids or the soaking liquid. In a small saucepan, stir together 2 TB. granulated sugar (or to taste) and 1 ½ cups vodka. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves completely. Cool to room temperature. Add 15-20 fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons melon liqueur (optional), and 2 tablespoons lemon or orange zest (optional) to a sterilized 1-quart canning jar, and then fill with 4 cups melon chunks or melon balls (use any type of fresh melon, such as cantaloupe, honeydew, casaba, or watermelon). Pour cooled syrup over the fruit. Cover and refrigerate. Best after 3 to 5 days. Use within 6 months.

Melon Juice: You can simply wash and cut melon into chunks and purée in a blender until very smooth. Alternatively, you can heat the melon to prepare juice: Wash 2 pounds melon and cut into chunks. Measure fruit into a saucepan, crush slightly, and add ¼ cup water for each cup of fruit. Cook (but don’t boil) over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until soft. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer, or colander lined with a double layer of dampened cheesecloth, set over a bowl. Drain undisturbed for 2 hours. Discard solids in the strainer (or use to make leather). In a saucepan, combine juice with 1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste). Sugar may be omitted, but helps retain color and flavor. Refrigerate juice and use within 3 days, or transfer to freezer-safe container and freeze up to 12 months. Watermelon juice can also be fermented into watermelon wine.

Melon Jelly: In a heavy stainless or enamel saucepan, stir together 1 cup melon juice and 3/4 cup granulated sugar. Boil over high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate and use within 1 month. For longer storage, keep jam hot while filling jars; adjust headspace to ¼-inch. Process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet).

For more information about food preservation methods and recipes, see the book The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler, available from booksellers everywhere.

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