Summers and watermelons seem to be made for each other. There aren’t many simple pleasures that can beat a sweet cold wedge of watermelon on a hot day.
Perhaps it’s the colder weather, but we’ve been thinking about summers and watermelon here at IIF. We have come to realise that even though watermelons are ubiquitous, we know very little about them. And even less about other varieties of melon.
So, here’s what we’ve discovered about the world of melons.
A short history of Melons
Varieties of melons seem to have originated in places like India, Iran and northern Africa. We know that honeydew melons were grown by ancient Egyptians. They were introduced to what’s now Europe about 1300-1100 BC by the Nuragic people living in Sardinia.
Honeydews were one of the first crops that Spanish settlers grew in the New World. But honeydew melons weren’t called honeydews until the 20th century. Before that, in the USA at least, the variety had no name. In 1911, these melons were served by a New York hotel to its restaurant diners. The story is that one diner was so taken by the honey flavour of these no-name melons that he saved the seeds. He sent the seeds to a plant researcher and breeder in Colorado. He identified the melons as a variety known in Europe as white Antibes winter melons. He decided that the melon needed a catchier name for the American market. Hence honeydew.
Rockmelon (or cantaloupe) also seems to have originated in Asia Minor. It travelled from Armenia to one of the papal seats near Rome. That region was called Cantalupo. When the melons spread further into Europe, they were called by the French version of Cantalupo, cantaloupe. There are two versions of cantaloupe. One has smooth two-tone green skin similar to watermelon. The other is the American variety. It has a rough tan netted skin. That’s the variety we know in Australia.
So, what about watermelons? Well, for something as familiar as watermelons, there are a few surprises – certainly, facts that we didn’t know. For starters, there are over a thousand varieties of watermelon.
Not surprisingly, watermelons were valued for their high water content. They were a source of hydration in dry seasons in countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. 5000-year-old watermelon seeds have been unearthed at an archaeological site in Libya.
Surprisingly maybe, those early watermelons weren’t sweet. They were reputedly bitter – and also really hard to break open. The sweet, red-fleshed varieties we know today are the product of selective breeding. So too the seedless varieties of watermelon were first produced in Japan in the 1930s. One of IIF’s farms, Daintree Fresh in far north Queensland grows a couple of these seedless varieties, Ruby and Javelin. IIF Coop members had the opportunity to invest in these a while back.
Daintree Fresh also produces other varieties of melon, many of which will be unfamiliar to us in Australia. That’s because many are in high demand in markets such as Japan. These varieties include the Seedless Champagne watermelon and the Orange Candy melon.
On the outside, the Seedless Champagne looks like a regular watermelon. But cut it open and in place of the deep pink flesh we’re used to, they contain lemon-yellow flesh. The Champagne watermelon was created by crossing a watermelon with a cantaloupe. Its flavour is described as having hints of honey and apricot.
The Orange Candy melon is a variety of the Amarillo melons from Spain. It has a flavour reminiscent of nashi pears. It comes as no surprise that it’s one of the melon varieties popular in Japan.
We recently offered some of these more exotic varieties of melons to IIF Coop members, who snapped them up in no time. Working with Daintree Fresh, we’ve been on a steep learning curve as far as melons go. Whilst we’ve learnt a bit about melons, we’ve also learnt that Daintree Fresh is regarded as one of the best producers of rarer breeds of melons. If you’d like a chance to invest in their produce in the future, you’d better sign up as a member of the Invest in Farming Co-operative. You can do that here.