What’s that food?

When this month’s subject was found in a local grocery store, it just had to be featured for this last month of the year. It is the appropriately named-for-the-season Santa Claus or Christmas melon.

Santa Claus melon can last for months

The Santa Claus (Cucumis melo inodorus) melon is a Casaba type of melon. It is a winter melon variety like the honeydew or Canary melon and needs a longer time on the vine (at least 110 frost-free days) to fully grow. They are also known for their thick rinds. Those thick rinds also allow the melons of this group to keep until the winter or Christmas, hence the name.

Originating in Turkey, this melon is now heavily associated with Spain due to a variety that developed there called Piel de Sapo. This name which translates to ‘toad skin’, a reference to the thick blotched green and yellowish striped skin of the melon, which can also have a wrinkled appearance. The melon can grow to a foot in length, and is slightly ovoid in shape. In Spain it is planted in the spring with harvests happening mainly in early fall. It is also grown in the US in California and Arizona and in South American countries like Brazil. The South Amercian crops supply melons for the winter months to markets around the world.

Unlike melons with softer rinds, the Santa Claus melon does not release an aroma when ripe. To know if your melon is ripe, press the blossom end—if it yields to pressure then it’s ripe. As well, the outside rind will become more yellow in colour.

The flesh of uncut melons is juicier and softer if kept at room temperature for one or two days before serving. Once ripened or cut, it should be refrigerated. An excellent keeper, this hardy melon can be kept up to six weeks longer than other varieties.

The Santa Claus melon can be used in many ways and in most recipes where melon is called for. Try using it in fruit salads, tarts, sorbets, and sauces. If you puree the melon, its consistency can complement chilled gazpacho like soups, smoothies, and cocktails. Mint, basil, and cilantro complement its flavour. Pairing well with cured meats, creamy cheeses, and tomatoes, this melon is great on charcuterie boards.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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