Luck of the draw–from the top left, piel de sapo melon, seedless watermelon, Galia melon and, below, Dino variety. I am trying them all in search of the perfect melon.


I was putting the rush on summer. When the first piel de sapo melons showed up in the market, I bought one. What a disappointment! It, obviously, had been picked too soon, because it was not sweet, not juicy. I chose another, of the same variety, from a different grocery, and, then, yet another. Same result. 

Playing the melon lottery, I was coming up a loser. I feared it was going to be a bad year for melons. Or that I would have to switch allegiance and find a different variety.

Finally, by mid-June, came the sweet melons that I craved. By then, I had experimented with other melon varieties as well as watermelon, which matures earlier than most melons. 

How to increase your luck of the draw when it comes to melons? In the case of the piel de sapo variety, don’t even roll the dice before the holiday of Corpus Christi (this year, that was June 16). 

Piel de sapo means “toad skin.”

This Spanish melon variety is extensively grown in La Mancha (central Spain) and exported to all of Europe. (In the U.S. it’s grown in California and Arizona and known as the “Santa Claus melon,” because its long-keeping qualities make it available for Christmas.) 

Unlike cantaloupe or Galia melons, the piel de sapo (the name means “toad skin,” for its rough green rind) has no fragrance, even when fully ripe. The sniff test will not distinguish a mature melon from an unripe one.

This variety is ovoid, football shaped, and often very large. Choose a melon that feels heavy for its size.  The skin should be dark green, striped or mottled with yellow.  

The best indicators of ripeness are a slight “give” when pressed on the blossom end and a yellow splotch (not white or pale green) on the side of the melon that rested on the ground. 

Once opened, the flesh is pale green to yellow in color. It should be crisp in texture, but juicy and very sweet. While it may look somewhat like Honeydew melon, its flavor is more complex and, when fully ripe, extraordinarily sweet.

A fairly new hybrid, Dino, so-called because it supposedly looks like a dinosaur egg, is perfectly round, white striped with green. The pale green flesh is fragrant and sweet, its texture is soft.   
The Galia variety of melon is small and round, with a webbed yellow rind. The flesh is pale yellow, sweet and fragrant; its texture is creamy.  

Cover any melon, once cut, with plastic wrap and store it refrigerated. 

What did I do with the not-ripe melons? I could not bear to pitch them in the compost. So I treated them like cucumbers. I made melon pickles, melon salad, melon gazpacho. Here are lots more ideas for what to do with melons, of any variety and any degree of sweetness. 

Pickled Melon

Melón en Vinagre

Build a salad or a sandwich around these bites of pickled melon.

Use any firm melon, unripe or very sweet, for this recipe. Rice vinegar may be used instead of white wine vinegar. It is less acidic than wine vinegar, so sugar is probably not needed.

1 pound firm melon (about 2 cups diced)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ cup shredded red onion

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

1 fresh red chile, chopped

1/8 teaspoon black mustard seed

Cut away rind and discard seeds from the melon. Cut the flesh into ½ inch-dice. Place in a bowl and add the salt and shredded onion. Let stand 1 hour.

Allow the melon to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Combine it with the vinegar, sugar, if using, chile and mustard seed. Place in a glass jar and cover tightly. Allow to stand 24 hours, shaking the contents of the jar occasionally. Keeps, refrigerated, up to 2 weeks.

Melon Gazpacho

Gazpacho de Melón

Ham with melon may be a cliché, but it’s such a great combination that ham seems the perfect garnish for this gazpacho. Use chopped or sliced serrano or ibérico. Here’s the recipe, Melon Gazpacho with Ham.

Salad Cups with Melon and Cheese

Ensaladilla de Melón y Queso Fresco

I like queso fresco de cabra, a soft, fresh white goat cheese, with the raw vegetables and sweet melon. Feta would be good as well. The quantities can easily be increased to serve a crowd. With the addition of diced smoked ham the salad easily becomes a  lunch bowl. See the recipe at Salad Cups with Melon and Cheese.

Turkey and Watermelon Salad

Ensalada de Pavo y Sandía

Sweet juicy watermelon goes very well with cubes of smoked turkey. A quick-to-assemble salad that’s perfect hot-weather fare. Those are blueberries, not olives, in the mix. Get the recipe Turkey and Watermelon Salad.

Salad of Purslane, Watermelon and Cucumber

Ensalada de Verdolaga con Sandía y Pepino

Watermelon Sangría

Sangría de Sandía

A lovely drink for a poolside party–pureed watermelon and white wine with a little Cointreau. Here’s the recipe for Watermelon Sangría.

Golden Muscatel Sangría with Melon Balls

Sangría de Vino Moscatel con Melón

Watermelon Ice

Helado de Sandía

A sort of pink snowball! This ice is made with yogurt and a touch of sweet Sherry.  Other melon can be substituted, but pink is so pretty. For the recipe: Watermelon Ice.

Melon with Ham

Melón con Jamón

Classic: sweet melon paired with salty serrano or ibérico ham. The perfect starter for a summer dinner. 

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