Friday, July 27, 2007
Melon with Port & Lavender
Musk melons have arrived, courtesy of the Blew family at Oak Grove Plantation. The Cantaloupes at their stand this week are floral, fragrant, and unbelievably yielding when split open – a far cry from the cardboard replicas you’ll find out of season in the local supermarket. Musk melons are a family of melons, named for their heady fragrance, that includes the Honey Dew, the Casaba, and the Cantaloupe. They came to the Mediterranean from Persia a very long time ago – the Ancient Greeks wrote about them in the 3rd Century BCE. Provence seems to have fallen in love with the fruits in the Middle Ages.
Cavaillon, a village in Provence’s Luberon, has long been famous for its melons and throws a great fête du melon each July to celebrate the harvest. There the Cavaillon melon, similar to the Cantaloupe but ridged in green stripes, is found in great heaps at the region’s markets all summer. And it’s eaten cooked and raw, savory and sweet. There are local recipes for deep-frying the Cavaillon in batter, for sautéing it with vinegar and onions, and for slicing it thinly over shellfish.
But the lovely tradition of marinating the juicy orange flesh in Port before serving it forth on a hot summer’s night is my favorite of all. I’ve added a tiny bit of my home-dried River Garden lavender, but don't hesitate to stay purist with this. There is hardly an easier or more restorative dessert, and the port makes the surprisingly complex fragrance and flavors of the melon shine.
Avoid squeezing musk melons, as this can lead to bruising. They should be fragrant and the indentation at the stem end should be smooth – a jagged edge means the melon was picked before it was ripe. And your melon should be heavy for its size – a sure sign of juiciness within. The fridge dulls the flavors of your melon, but once it’s been opened, a melon really must be refrigerated.
Serves 2 – 4
1 ripe Cantaloupe
Ruby Port (no need for anything posh here)
Small pinch of fresh or dried lavender (optional)
Halve your melon and gently scoop out the seeds. With a sharp pairing knife, lightly score the hollow of the cavities in a crosshatch pattern. This will allow the Port to penetrate the flesh. Fill the melon halves about 3/4 of the way with Port and let sit for 15 – 30 minutes. Just before serving, crumble the dried lavender over the exposed flesh.