If you’re lucky enough to have enough space to grow spanspek or cantaloupe, or sweet melons, you are bound to have plenty for preserving melons for the leaner months.
Planted in spring and summer, sweet melon fruit forms on a rambling vine and will be ready to harvest in four months. Melons are ready to harvest when they have a fruity aroma, a slight softening of the rind and a hollow sound when knocked. They don’t ripen off the vine so need to be checked often. Don’t be too quick to harvest, as the sweetest melons are those that detach from the vines themselves. Fresh melons are a delightful fruit to add to a summer fruit platter, and the flesh pairs so well with a salty cured meat like prosciutto that it has become a classic. For an extra boost and as the perfect starter when you’re entertaining, soak melon in a sherry or fortified wine for an hour before wrapping it in prosciutto.
Horchata de Melón
Horchata is a nutty plant-based drink that originated in Spain and has been adopted in the Americas, Mexico and West Africa. It often includes a variety of nuts, sometimes rice, and flavourings like cinnamon and vanilla, but each country has its own way of making it with their specific ingredients. The ingredients are all blended together like a smoothie and served hot or cold. Horchata de Melón uses the seeds and pulp from the melon, which are otherwise usually discarded, to give it the typical sweet nutty flavour of a regular Horchata. To make it, blend together 1 cup melon pulp and seeds, 3 cups water, 1 tablespoon sugar and a squeeze of lime juice. Adjust the lemon and sugar to taste and let it sit in the fridge for half an hour for the flavours to develop. Strain and serve.
Sugar can be used to preserve fruit, and will make it last for about six months if stored in airtight containers in a cool place. That means a summer fruit like sweet melon can be enjoyed in winter too. It can be eaten as a snack or added to cakes and puddings. Preserving with sugar is a food science that removes the small percentage of active water that supports microbial growth (eventually spoiling the fruit) and replaces it with sugar through osmosis. While we know that fruit is predominantly made up of water, the majority is bound to larger molecules and cell structures and has no effect on the stability of the food. It’s the small amount of active or free water that needs to be replaced by sugar or removed, as is done when you dehydrate fruit.
The following is not a quick and easy solution, but sometimes it’s better to cook in the way that expert French chefs have practised for centuries when it comes to preserving melons:
- Peel one ripe, but not soft, melon and cut the flesh into slices.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the fruit for a minute, then drain.
In a large saucepan, combine 700g sugar, 6 cups water and 60g golden syrup. (The syrup stops the sugar from crystalising.) Bring the mixture to a boil and turn the heat down to simmer. Add the fruit and simmer for ½ hour. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and leave in the saucepan until the next day. Heat up the fruit and syrup again and simmer for ½ hour, then turn off again. Do this for four days. After this time the fruit should be ready. Place on a rack to dry out completely and then pack in airtight containers. The syrup can also be used to flavour cakes and puddings.