Slice of toad skin melon. Amador Toril /© ICEX
The melon or Cucumis melo L. is the fruit of the melon plant, a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which comprises about 850 species of herbaceous plants. The edible part is its fruit, which is very large in size and can weigh as much as four kilograms (8.8 lb). Depending on the variety, the shape varies from spherical to oval, the rind from green to white, and the flesh from white to greenish. The melon contains an abundance of seeds wrapped in a viscous layer. When unripe, its flavor is reminiscent of cucumber but when mature, its flavor and aroma are very refreshing and sweet.
While it is not clear where it originated, the most likely areas indicated are Africa or Asia. Known since antiquity, in the 15th century it was popular in the French court, and was introduced into America by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonizers.
Spain is the world's largest exporter of melons, the main cultivation areas being the provinces of Cuenca and Ciudad Real (Castile-La Mancha), the province of Almería (Andalusia), Murcia, Extremadura, the provinces of Valencia and Castellón (Valencian Community) and the Region of Madrid.
Among the varieties grown in Spain, there are three native green melons. The Piel de sapo (Toadskin) is an elongated melon ranging in weight from one and a half to two and a half kilos (3.3 to 5.5 lb), with green rind and dark mottling and yellowy-white flesh, with little aroma and a very sweet flavor. The La Mancha Melon is distinguishable by its non-fibrous flesh and great sweetness and juiciness. The Rochet melon, which has oblong fruits and weighs between one and a half and two kilos (3.3 to 4.4 lb), has smooth, green skin and compact flesh, a yellowy-white color, little aroma and a very sweet flavor. The Tendral is a winter melon, rounded or elongated in shape, weighing between two and three kilograms (4.4 to 6.6 lb), with rough, dark-green rind and white, flavorsome, sweet flesh. It comes from the area around Elche, in the province of Alicante (Valencian Community).
Worthy of note is the Torre-Pacheco melon, grown in the Region of Murcia, and belonging to the Piel de Sapo, Amarillo, Galia and Cantaloup varieties. These are bigger and heavier melons, noted for their sweetness and juiciness. Another very popular melon is the Villaconejos Melon, named after the town of the same name in the region of Madrid which is renowned for its long melon-growing tradition. Because of its late planting date, the Villaconejos melon can be found on the market after the season for other melons is over, and the most representative varieties are Piel de Sapo and Mochuelo.
Other varieties grown in Spain are the Honeydew, which has yellow pulp and rind, a very sweet flavor and tasty, crunchy flesh. It is grown in Murcia and Cartagena (Murcia), Valencia (Valencian Community) and Cuenca (Castile-La Mancha). The sphere-shaped Galia melon has an average weight of between 850 and 1,900 g (1.8 and 4.1 lb), a bright yellow rind when ripe, greenish-white flesh and an exquisite aroma. It is produced in Almería (Andalusia) and Murcia. The Cantaloup variety is also sphere-shaped, weighs between 700 and 1,200 g (1.5 and 2.6 lb), and has yellow rind with lengthwise stripes and orange pulp, with an intense aroma. It is grown mainly in Almería (Andalusia) and Murcia.
The best season for eating melons, when they are grown outdoors, is from July to September, except for the Tendral variety, which can be enjoyed from November to January.
It is usually eaten as a dessert, on its own or in combination with other fruits, as well as in ice creams and sorbets. However, more daring dishes include it dressed in salads, with pepper as an accompaniment to roast meat or foie gras, or with ham, giving rise to that well-known first course. It can also be used for making liqueur.