The prices for melons at farmers markets and grocery stores are currently at the best you will find all year. It seems such a shame to let all that good pricing go to waste. But what can you do with melons? Most people know that they can eat a few of them, but to buy too many seems a waste because their shelf life is not all that long, even when they are in season. There are things you can do to enjoy the flavor of melons, even in December when the going rate for a cantaloupe can be over $4.00 a piece.
The question arises, can you freeze melons? The answer is a resounding yes. You do lose some of the summer flavor, of course, but a frozen melon ball is nearly as good as a fresh melon ball from a December cantaloupe. You can also create your own melon freezes now with in season watermelons. If you happen to have popsicle molds, you can fill them with pureed melon, freeze and eat at your leisure. Children love popsicles, even if they have been outside sliding in the cold snow. Melon popsicles are better than regular popsicles because they have a lot more nutrients and a natural sugar. Don't have popsicle molds? You can create melon ice cubes instead. Use ice cube trays to freeze the pureed melon, then package in freezer bags or canning jars. They are almost like eating an Italian ice. Add a few flourishes, such as lemon or orange, for a different flavor. I have even pureed the melons with vanilla yogurt for another great treat.
There is no trick to freezing melons. Generally all you need to do is cut them into 1/4 inch cubes, or use a melon baller to create melon balls. This works not only for cantaloupes, but for watermelons and honeydew as well. Once you have cut your cubes or made your melon balls, place them into glass canning jars or plastic freezer containers. I like canning jars because for some reason there is rarely any freezer burn. When you freeze in canning jars, there is crystallization but the flavor is always very fresh when thawed.
If space is a problem, you can use plastic freezer bags, but you will most likely get freezer burn. However you can buy a vacuum sealer, and then vacuum seal all your produce. Where can you get a vacuum sealing system? A search will bring you to many sites that sell systems. Here are a few that I found. One is available at Kohl's. You can also buy a very inexpensive one at Amazon. There is also a very nice system available through the official Foodsaver website.
In my harvesting of cantaloupe in the past, I actually developed one recipe that can be canned. I had a bumper crop of cantaloupe one year. I had so many melons, I cried at the thought of wasting all that melon. Never grow cantaloupes on a hill. If you do, you will have dozens of cantaloupes to use up. They love growing on hills. I happen to have a relatively steep one in my backyard, and when I planted cantaloupe and watermelon on the hill one year, the harvest was endless. However, I was not going to be beaten by too many melons. So I went to work trying to develop a way to can my cantaloupe.
The recipe I came up with was a rich, delectable conserve. Some might think it too sweet, but I had a wonderful winter of eating this conserve on toast, and using it in baked goods such as coffee cake. It lasts for a few years if you can't eat it all in one year.. That sometimes happens when you have a bumper crop. Try this conserve for a very special, expensive tasting treat. It is the kind of recipe that you will find at the finest bed and breakfasts, that is how special it is.
Spiced Cantaloupe Conserve
6 lbs cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into
1/2 inch cubes
2 tsp fresh grated lemon peel
1/2 cup lemon juice
8 cups sugar
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I used bagged. Try it with fresh)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 tsp. whole allspice
Place cantaloupe cubes in a large bowl. Toss with the sugar and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to stand at room temperature for 8-10 hours. Place in large stainless stockpot with remaining ingredients. Bring all to a boil and cook until mixture is thickened, stirring constantly (should reduce by 1/2 to 2/3's.)
Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal and process for 15 minutes.
Yield - 8-10 half pints if cantaloupe is dry
7-8 half pints if cantaloupe has
high water content
My next attempt at using cantaloupe will be to try making a cantaloupe marmalade and cantaloupe butter. If I succeed, the recipes will be posted. However, for now, I am still in the planning stages as to how I think it will best be handled. If any of my readers discover a great way to make either, let me know.