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How to pick out and ripen the perfect honeydew melon

Addie Broyles
When it's in season this time of year, honeydew melon isn't the flavorless fruit found in many store-bought fruit salads. If you use your nose to smell for a sweet scent and then let the fruit ripen on your counter for at least a few days, the fruit will taste better than if you cut into it too early. Try it with a sprinkle of salt. [Addie Broyles/American-Statesman]

If you're ever going to buy a honeydew melon, now is the time to do it.

Just as cucumbers and tomatoes start filling our plates, so do thick slices of melons, from deep red watermelons to pastel-hued heirloom varieties from the farmers market.

I'm partial to the bright green honeydew melons that are ripe only for a few weeks a year. The rest of the time, those hard green cubes only take up space in every sad fruit salad, but not in June and July, when their sweet smell beckons in the produce aisle.

Look for one with a hint of yellow in the skin, but the most important step to buying any melon is to let it ripen. The everyday cantaloupe and the specialty melons, such as Honey Kiss, Canary, Golden Dewlicious and Galia, will let you know they are ready by their scent. Thumping a watermelon is still the best way to try to determine its ripeness — you're listening for a hollow sound — but with other melons, use your nose.

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Both watermelons and other melons will feel heavier when they are ripe, and I always let melons sit on my kitchen counter for at least a few days before cutting into them. I recently let a honeydew melon rest on the counter for a week while I was out of town, and it was the sweetest, most beautiful fruit when I got home.

It made me realize that paying attention to ripening fruit is an easily overlooked kitchen task. Taking the time to let fruit fully ripen is the first step, but it's also worth the effort to gently turn many kinds of fruit, including pineapples, plums, peaches, cantaloupe, watermelon or even citrus, which will keep all the juices from settling onto one side. That causes the flesh on that side to ripen unevenly or even bruise.

I cut melons differently than I cut watermelons, which vary so much in shape and size. When I'm cutting watermelons, I'm just shooting for whatever kind of slices I can manage.

Cantaloupes and the like are easier to handle on a home cutting board. You'll want to wash the rinds thoroughly because they can easily carry bacteria from the farm or the food chain and transfer to the cutting surface. After washing the melon, I use a chef's knife to cut from pole to pole (not around the "equator") and then remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. I then cut long smile-shaped slices and remove the rind as if I'm filleting a fish, with the knife parallel to the cutting board. 

Sometimes I'll serve those big slices to the kids as an afternoon snack, or I'll cut the wedges into chunks to serve on a plate with salt or Tajin or in a fruit salad with berries. You also can use cut-up melon (or pineapples) for aqua fresca using this basic recipe from The Washington Post's Tanya Sichynsky.

Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca

The amount of diced watermelon, when blended and strained, should yield 8 cups of juice. Melons that are riper than others may yield far more liquid, so you might end up using between 12 and 14 cups of the diced fruit. The drink can be refrigerated a day in advance. It's refreshing on its own, but you can add alcohol, if desired.

Flesh of 1 medium watermelon, cut into chunks (about 16 cups)

1 cup fresh lime juice (from 4 to 6 limes)

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

16 basil leaves, plus more for garnish

4 cups water

Combine half the watermelon, lime juice, sugar, salt and basil leaves in a high-powered blender; blend on high speed for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and use a flexible spatula to push the mixture through. Discard the solids.

Repeat with the remaining fruit, juice, sugar, salt and basil. Transfer the strained juice to a pitcher. Add the water and stir to blend well. Refrigerate until well chilled. Serves 12.

— From Tanya Sichynsky for The Washington Post