Expert knows best

by Eszter Hargittai on August 17, 2008

A Ripened Melon - Chef's choiceI just had a deliciously sweet cantaloupe. How did I know how to pick it? My favorite* chef, Chef Susan aka Chef Q posted some advice on the topic recently. Not only is she an amazing cook and baker, she is also an excellent photographer so her posts are illustrated with helpful images. I forgive her for all the pounds I gained last year due to her cooking (hey, at least I finally started a regular exercise regime) and thank her not just for all the great meals I’ve had the good fortune to experience, but also the helpful material she shares online.

[*] It’s actually a tie with my Mom, but she’s not officially a chef. Of course, that hasn’t stopped her from publishing a cookbook (see some of her recipes here).

Photo credit: Susan Beach



Pamthropologist 08.17.08 at 7:14 pm

Um….in the new wordspeak of education, isn’t she a facilitator assisting you in your own collaborative learning process? I hope you are not doing this cooking and eating individualistically? True learning can only occur as a team member, after all.


rea 08.17.08 at 11:53 pm

Q. Why is it traditional to serve musk melon at a wedding reception?

A. So you cantaloupe.

(Maybe I should have posted this under an assumed name . . .)


vivian 08.18.08 at 12:12 am

Wish I’d had that melon soup recipe on Friday, when I threw away a slightly overripe one. But there’s always next time.

A cousin/chemical engineer told me that to get a ripe honeydew melon, in addition to thumping and pressing opposite the stem end, rub the rind. If it’s smooth and sleek, leave it, but if it feels gritty, that’s because it’s so sweet, the sugar is leaking out and crystallizing on the outside. It works, but it’s hard to find ones like that.


Doctor Slack 08.18.08 at 6:12 am

Am I the only one noticing the cantaloupe photo here is disturbingly… sphincterish? Anyone… ?

I am, aren’t I? Shit.


Eszter Hargittai 08.18.08 at 11:46 am

Rea – we forgive you.;-)

Vivian – interesting, I hadn’t heard of that before. Even if it’s rare, it’s worth a minute or two of checking.


Cheryl Rofer 08.18.08 at 1:12 pm

The vendors at our local farmers market tell me that they get very irritated at people who mush their fingers into melons.

It’s much simpler than your chef makes it: if it smells ripe, it is. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.


don't quote me on this 08.18.08 at 3:39 pm

I worked at a farm stand for years and agree with Cheryl (#6) absolutely on both counts: melon pokers are annoying (as are corn dehuskers), and the best way to measure a melon’s ripeness is by sniffing. Any functioning nose should be sensitive enough to detect the difference between a ripe melon and an unripe one.


cpareader 08.19.08 at 2:59 am

One reason it’s hard to find a ripe melon in a grocery store (I think our chef must patronize the same San Francisco grocery store I do; at least mine is always full of firemen working on their next three meals) is that almost all melons are picked green. They get older, and their stems fall off, but they really don’t get riper. I could walk out into my father-in-law’s West Texas corn patch, where the melons grew around the stalks and the black-eyed peas at the end of the rows, and be almost intoxicated (along with the bees and wasps) with the odor of the melons. One in the back of the car on the way home was enough to conjure dreams of paradise. It is the smell, and perhaps a very slight stickiness on the slick skinned melons, that tells you about ripeness. If you’re unlucky enough to get a truly green melon, treat it like a cucumber and pickle it. I’d attach the how to but I’m insufficiently technological to bring that about.


Eszter Hargittai 08.19.08 at 10:34 am

The way I read it, the advice didn’t suggest any required poking nor did I engage in any. As for smell, while I realize that that can be useful, circumstances don’t always allow the smell to come across in a strong fashion.


Cheryl Rofer 08.19.08 at 12:49 pm

Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” talks about “mechanic’s feel,” the ability to know when you’ve tightened a bolt sufficiently. I would extend that to “veggie feel,” the ability to knock on a watermelon and feel the ripeness or to touch (not press) another melon and feel the ability of its skin to give a little. It works for other veggies and fruits as well.

I think that both kinds of feel are a product of experience, perhaps combined with an ability to monitor one’s tactile reactions.

If you need that chef”s advice, you probably don’t have the experience to provide you with veggie feel and may (a) intellectually misinterpret it to mean that if a little give is good, a mushy finger is better or (b) just not have the ability (coordination?) not to press too hard.

I can’t imagine circumstances in which one can’t smell a ripe melon, short of serious nasal congestion or one of those dreadful never-ripe supermarket melons.


Eszter Hargittai 08.19.08 at 1:48 pm

Cheryl, I guess I must’ve misinterpreted what Chef Q was suggesting, because I didn’t engage in any pressing of anything whatsoever (if you don’t press at all then it can’t be harder than perceived).


roac 08.19.08 at 3:49 pm

The link has a picture of cantaloupe with ice cream. Nero Wolfe hated cantaloupe with ice cream (also oysters with horseradish). Rex Stout has been gone for 30+ years, but I would still be frightened to eat cantaloupe with ice cream lest Wolfe rise from his virtual grave and smite me.

Comments on this entry are closed.