‘Always smell melons before picking one up the shelves,’ my grandmother has taught me. Thick slices, peeled and intertwined with prosciutto ham for my cousins; halved, left in its shell, handed with a teaspoon for me, the child born vegetarian in our family; summer lunches in Cannes. France, the riviera, heat blurred the offing, the Mediterranean azure that surrounded our bodies slowed our otherwise suburban daily pace. The noughties, shadows of social media platforms, terrors and financial crash emerged around the corner. Paulette, with her skinny calves likewise canes and linen, ripe pears green dresses, never described which odour is characteristic of a good melon.
Things I know about melons: they are a type of berry, part of the Cucurbitaceae family, however they grow on vines. Some melons can weigh as much as 90 kilograms when mature. My research indicates that someone once bought two Yubari King melons, sweet treasures from Japan, for 20,000 US dollars. I can’t find their recipe. Watermelons can be spotted on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Fruits in UK supermarkets, I realised with astonishment when I first moved to the country, feature expiry dates. Today is the 7th day of May, the label attached to the melon on my kitchen counter instructs my eyes to consume the fruit before 6th May 2021. The melon Charentais, a type of European Cantaloupe, grows in the south-western department of Charente in France. I diligently scent each melon I pick before I transfer one into my shopping basket, still.
Things I know about the European Cantaloupe melon, and of the melon Charentais specifically: it was cultivated in Italy in the 1700s first and was named after its birth region, Cantalupo. Mature size: 30 centimetres tall, 1 meter long. The melon Charentais is smaller than its cousins in size but tastes stronger. The outer skin appears pistachio green, edging towards shades of grey, the flesh dyes pastel in comparison to the other Cantaloupes’ symbolic orange.
I ignore the expiration date and I cut through its flesh with a sharp knife. The sun has won the Spring battle with the clouds for the first time this week, clearing up the rain, a juicing, sweet melon comes through on my chopping board. Water: medium, moist seeds. Light required: full sun. The melon’s outer layer is slightly bruised in parts, glutinous flesh cuddles its seeds in the middle, the skin hardens towards the shell. The melons Charentais are in season again, despite the dragging winter. On the morning of May 7th, I cut the melon before me in squares, delicious afterward taste nonetheless. I like fruits on the bitter side; I remember summer melons sweeter. The sea at the bottom of our holiday apartment’s balcony tracked time for us, the île Sainte-Marguerite in the horizon entertained my imagination. Carte postale from Cannes, Avenue du Moure-Rouge, on the other side of the boulevard de la Croisette. My grandmother staged three meals per day for me and my cousins, while our mothers stayed behind to work in Paris. Fruits didn’t come with an expiry date back then. We had my grandmother’s nostril for ally, sea currents and wind gusts announced each season. The melons Charentais aromatise my local supermarket’s aisles again, thus I smell each fruit before I choose one to bring home with me. That is, time and recurrence, the subjective and rewarding side of eating seasonally, the roots that ground one’s food history deeper each twelve months and four seasons, the leaves and their varying shapes and shades, the consequences of changing weather and precipitation.
Things I want to remember when I eat a melon: we had seasons to rely on back then. Ingredients have a past before they make up for present meals, our future depends on how we fetch and cook the dishes that both feed and define us.
The Mistral wind brought summer rains over Cannes, warm puddles agglomerated on pavements, the streets on the way to the market smelt sweet and sour. Just like my melon does this morning, simply cut in squares, pistachio nuts crushed on top, a few drops of almond milk for cushion, my childish dream of a summer breakfast with mamie. She would have disapproved of my recipe, this I know as I write Paulette this letter, the English Channel between us, countdown to summertime.
Margaux, May 2021