FOOD / Tough exterior yields sweet flesh: Melons may breed like rabbits, but our cookery writer sticks with the old, thoroughbred families of fruit for her summer starter and dessert recipes

In Alexandre Dumas' Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, the author includes a special entry for the Provencal town of Cavaillon . . . 'not for its position on the river Durance, nor for its proximity to Avignon, nor for its arc de triomphe, but for its melons'.

Dumas recounts that he received a letter from the town councillors of Cavaillon, who were trying to set up a public library with limited funds. They asked him to donate two or three of what he considered his best novels. He replied that 'all my books are good, but I think that the melons of Cavaillon are excellent'. He offered to send them a full set of his novels in exchange for a lifetime annuity of a dozen of their finest green melons; the council readily agreed.

Lucky Dumas. Of course, he knew that the Cavaillon melons were a good variety, and that is the first pointer to picking out a fine fruit. Although I am all for trying new things, I tend to be a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to melons. I usually ignore the cavalcade of new names that turn up every year. Melons, apparently, interbreed like rabbits, and some of their offspring are disappointingly dull.

Broadly speaking, melons fall into three categories: cantaloup, musk-melons (netted or nutmeg melons) and winter melons. I have always thought of cantaloups as orange-fleshed, but I am wrong. The green-fleshed Ogen, for instance, is technically a cantaloup. Generally, they have a hard rind, which may be scaly, and broad ribs. The flesh tends to be soft but smooth and very juicy. The name comes from the Italian town of Cantalupo, south of Rome, where, it is said, they were first grown in Europe. My favourite, the fragrant, orange-fleshed Charentais, belongs to this group.

The skin of musk-melons is usually covered with a barely raised, light-coloured network pattern. The colour of the flesh varies through the melon spectrum, but it is usually smoother and firmer than that of a cantaloup. Though winter melons are now available for much of the year, originally they were the latecomers, ripening towards the end of summer or even in the autumn. With their hard rinds, they are the best 'keepers'. Honeydew melons are typical of this group, with their yellow skins and crisp, sweet flesh.

You can, to a degree, gauge the ripeness of cantaloups and musk- melons by the heaviness of their scent. Otherwise, the main test for all melons is whether the end opposite the stem yields when pressed. Some people like their melon chilled, but I find this dampens the flavour of fragrant melons such as Charentais.

Powdered ginger and maraschino cherries, though not extinct as melon garnishes, are at least rare these days. Prosciutto, I am glad to say, still holds sway as the ideal partner to a good melon. If you serve them together as a first course, do not stint on the ham.

Melon with wine

From The Complete Book of Fruit by Leslie Johns & Violet Stevenson (Angus & Robertson), comes this simple but boozy recipe. They recommend it with a honeydew, but it will jazz up any variety.

Cut a small (but not so small that you cannot slide a spoon into the centre) triangular piece out of the stem end of the fruit to act as a plug. Then stand the melon upright in a suitably sized bowl. Scrape out the seeds, fill the cavity with dessert wine (not your best, but an adequately good one) and replace the plug. Chill for about 6 hours or so.

Shortly before serving, pour the wine into a jug or decanter, let the melon warm up a little at room temperature then slice and serve with the wine.

Melon and smoked chicken salad

This is a lovely, light, fresh-tasting summer salad that is best put together at the last minute. Smoked chicken is particularly pleasing, but a well-flavoured roast free- range chicken will do nicely.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 1 orange- or green- fleshed melon

about 12oz (340g) smoked or cooked ordinary chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces

1tbs finely chopped chives

1/2 tbs chopped chervil or parsley

1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced

3tbs toasted pine kernels

For the dressing: 1 1/2 tbs lemon juice

juice of 1/2 orange

salt and pepper

Preparation: Discard the melon seeds and rind, and cut flesh into 1in (2.5cm) cubes. Mix with all the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Melon sorbet

The purest of summer desserts, it can be made with any type of melon. The flavour is best within a few days of the making. If you have the time, you might even freeze three batches, one with orange-fleshed melon, one with green and one with watermelon. They will look very pretty, piled up in multicoloured scoops in a halved watermelon shell.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients: 1 melon, or wedge of melon, weighing about 2lb (1 kg)

6oz (170g) sugar

2-3tbs orange-flower water

lemon juice

Preparation: Remove seeds and liquidise the flesh of the melon. Put the sugar into a pan with 1/2 pint (290ml) water and stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Draw off the heat. Add syrup and orange-flower water gradually to the pureed melon, tasting as you go, until it is sweet enough (remember that the cold will dampen the sweetness a little). Now add a generous squeeze or two of lemon to emphasise the flavours.

Freeze in a sorbetiere if you have one. Otherwise, pour into a shallow container and place in the freezer, which has already been turned to its coldest setting. Leave until the sides are setting solid. Break them up and push into the centre. Return to the fridge. Repeat. When the sorbet has just set solid, take it out and scoop into a processor. Whiz to a mush and return once again to the freezer before serving.

Swimming melon

The cuisine of Laos is not rich in puddings but this one, from the Traditional Recipes of Laos by Phia Sing (Prospect Books), is worth a dozen lesser desserts. It is refreshing on a hot day and requires little more work than a fruit salad. I do not know what kind of melons they use in Laos, but I tried it with a Charentais, which was delicious. Do not chill the first extraction coconut cream or it will set solid.

Serves 6

Ingredients: grated meat of 1 coconut or 8oz desiccated coconut

1 medium-large ripe melon

7oz (200g) castor sugar

Preparation: If using fresh coconut, measure the volume of grated flesh and pour over the same volume of boiling water. If using desiccated coconut, pour over 1 pint (580ml) of boiling water. Whiz in the processor, then strain, pressing through the first extraction of coconut cream. Set aside. Repeat the process to get the thinner second extraction milk. Strain it straight on to the sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow both cream and milk to cool, but do not chill.

Quarter the melon and de-seed. Cut the flesh from the skin. Cut the flesh into matchstick-size pieces about 1 1/2 in (3.5cm) long. Divide between 6 bowls, together with any juice. Pour over the sweetened milk. Chill. Just before serving, float a layer of coconut cream on top of each bowlful.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
VIDEO
Life & Style
The exterior of a central London Angus Steakhouse
food + drink
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit