Few things are as refreshing and naturally sweet as a fresh, locally- grown cantaloupe or watermelon.
Pennsylvania farmers annually grow about 1,000 acres of cantaloupes, which ranks the Keystone State as eighth in the production of cantaloupes, plus about 650 acres of watermelons. Pennsylvania cantaloupes and watermelons are plentiful now and usually are available statewide through September.
Many Pennsylvania growers plant their melons in black plastic mulch to increase soil temperature and conserve soil moisture, producing a better melon.
This recipe for key lime grilled shrimp over melon and pineapple salsa was a winner in the 2012 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest. For more melon recipes, visit www.paveggies.org.
Growers also commonly lay drip irrigation lines under the plastic mulch to allow them to apply water and fertilizer directly in the root zone to make the most efficient use of the water and nutrients.
Although some consumers have their own standards for choosing cantaloupes, there's no disputing some basic ripeness indicators.
A good cantaloupe will have no trace of a stem and will have a pronounced cavity where the melon was pulled from the vine.
These two characteristics indicate that the cantaloupe was harvested when it was fully mature which is important because melons do not increase their sugar content after they have been harvested.
When buying cantaloupes, select melons that have a thick netting and a rich golden color underneath. They should also have a delicate aroma. A cantaloupe that is still firm can be stored uncut at room temperature to let the flesh become softer and juicer but, as mentioned above, it will not become sweeter.
Watermelons should have neither a very shiny or very dull rind but rather a waxy "bloom." They should be yellowish on the underside - not greenish-white. If they have a stem, it should be brown and dry, not green. The traditional "thump" test, besides almost being an art, is not particularly accurate.
Each serving of cantaloupe contains only 35 calories and is a good source of vitamins A and C plus potassium. Watermelon has only 32 calories and also is a source of vitamins A and C. Following are some tasty melon recipes from the 2012 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest. Additional melon recipes are available at www.paveggies.org.
Key Lime Grilled Shrimp over Melon and Pineapple Salsa
1pound raw shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 tablespoons mango pepper jam
2 teaspoons minced, seeded jalapeno,
2 cups finely diced firm-ripe cantaloupe
1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1/4cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons rice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon verbena plus 4 sprigs for garnish
1/2teaspoon sea salt
Dash of pepper
4 large lettuce leaves, such as Boston,
Romaine or iceberg
4 key lime wedges
Combine with shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon pepper jam, and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno in a medium bowl.
Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
Combine melon, pineapple, red and green bell pepper, onion, vinegar, honey, lemon verbena sea salt and pepper in a large bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon jalapeno.
Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes or overnight.
About 20 minutes before serving, preheat grill to high.
Thread the shrimp onto skewers, piercing each twice, once through the tail end and once near the head end.
Grill the shrimp until pink and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
When cool enough to handle, slide the shrimp off the skewers. To serve, arrange one large lettuce leaf on each dinner plate.
Spoon salsa onto the lettuce and top with shrimp and garnish each serving with a key lime wedge and lemon verbena leaves.
Zesty Melon and Shrimp Salad
1 cup cut cantaloupe
1 cup cut honeydew
1 cup cut watermelon
1 cup seedless
1 cup cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon dill
1 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1 head bibb lettuce or leaf lettuce
Mix together fruit and cucumber, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain in a colander for several minutes.
Add shrimp and mix. Set aside. While fruit drains, whisk together dressing ingredients and chill until serving time. Arrange lettuce in a single layer on individual plates and top with fruit shrimp-mixture.
Drizzle on dressing and serve.