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Melondrama

SCENE 1
Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 10:15 am

GUEST: Jimmy the Bookie
            Woman Shopper
            Madame Momordica, Fortune Teller

    I believe it was Jerry Seinfeld who said, "Fruit is a gamble." Why, think about it: this orange looks orange, but what of the insides? I mean, is it juicy? Is it sweet? And are you willing to bet a buck on it? I don't know.
    And apples, here's another really good example. I mean, is this the way these really ought to look? Is this how much they really ought to weight? Will the inside be mealy, sweet, I ... Are you willing to bet a buck-ninety-nine a pound either way? I don't know.
    Pineapples. Pineapples. Talk about gambling. Buying one of these things is, well, you might as well be betting the ponies. Now here's a thought. Maybe all the mega-marts in America should staff their produce departments with odds makers.

JIMMY: I will give you, ah, 5 to 1 on those pears, 7 to 3 on the limes, and uh, even money on the kiwi.
WOMAN: Thanks, Jimmy.
J: Ah, fuh-get-about-it. You know, those cherries ...

    I wonder what old Jimmy would think of my melons. You know, this is a pretty enigmatic fruit, a vegetal Mona Lisa, whose exterior reveals very little of the interior.

AB: Hey, Jimmy.
J: Yeah.
AB: Man. What'll you give me on the melon?
J: Oh, AB, dude, you know I don't cover that action. There ain't no profit in it. Look, why don't you go consult the Madame?
AB: The Madame?
J: What'd I just say?
MOMORDICA: Ah, young man, you come wishing to know what the future holds? Or perhaps you seek love, huh?
AB: No.
M: A better job? Or someone to fix your hair?
AB: Actually I just want somebody to tell me if my melon's ripe.
M: How about I read your palm?
AB: How about you read my melon?
M: No. No one can see into the impenetrable mystery of the melon. No one! Besides, what do you want a melon for? You can't really do anything with them. Here, let me find you a nice lottery number. [looks into her crystal ball]
AB: Where she sees mystery, I see majesty. You know, there are reliable ways of finding a ripe melon, and you'd be surprised how many different kinds of melon there are. And you'd be equally surprised to find out that there are a lot of different things you can do with them besides cutting them open and stuffing them full of cottage cheese.
M: It's coming through. I can see it! It's ... it's ... it's ...

["Good Eats"  Theme Plays]

SCENE 2
Whole Foods

GUESTS: Mrs. Johnson
              Man #1 and #2
              Produce Man

    Unlike most fruits, melons don't have much in the way of starch reserves, okay? That means that once they come off the vine, they're not going to get any sweeter. This isn't one of those fruits that's going to ripen in your own kitchen, okay? That means if you're really going to enjoy melons, you're going to have to learn how to pick them right here while they're at their peak of flavor. Now there are plenty of wives tales about how to determine the ripeness of a melon. For instance:

MRS. JOHNSON: You've got to feel for the soft spot at the end. It's the only way to tell.
AB: The poke method. Problem is, the poke method only works with certain melons during certain times of the year. It's not reliable.
MAN #1: My Mom's always said to smell the end.
AB: Yeah? Which end?
M#1: She didn't say.
AB: Yeah, that's the problem. The whole smelling thing, well, actually it does work. But it only works with musk melons and it only works with the stem end, okay? Anybody else?
MAN #2: Everybody knows you have to thump, thump ...
ALL: Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump...
PRODUCE MAN: Stop it! Stop! Stop! Stop! All right, I can't take it anymore!
AB: Produce Man, what's eating you?
PM: It's the thumping, Mr. Brown. All day, every day, it's the thumping! Thumping! The never-ending sound of thumping!
AB: Okay, thumping, got it. Look, are you trying to tell me that you don't want your customers to be able to find ripe melons?
PM: Well, of course I do. It's my life's work. But you know, thumping, is ... it's ... well, it's stupid.
ALL: [begin to rise up and throw their produce at him]
AB: [stopping them] Okay, okay. Just let him talk, okay? Please sir, put the mango down, okay? Okay, so if they're not supposed to thump, how are they supposed to tell?
PM: Well, you know, like all fruits, melons should just look good, you know? No cracks or blemishes. And they should be heavy for their size, too. See? The netting on the musk melon should be very pronounced and the color on the winter melon should be deep and rich.
M#2: What about watermelons?
MJ: Thump 'em! [thumps the watermelon]
P: No, no, no, no! [takes it away from her] You have thumped your last melon, Mrs. Johnson!
AB: Just relax, okay? Okay, how do you tell a watermelon?
PM: Well, the best way to judge a watermelon is just to turn it upside down, all right? See that patch? [lighter, yellow portion of the melon with no stripes]
AB: Oh yeah.
PM: That's the ground spot. This is where the melon lays on the dirt. It should have a yellowish tint to it, okay?
AB: Okay.
PM: If it's white, that means the melon's immature.
AB: Yellow spot on the bottom, great.
PM: Right.
AB: Any other way to tell?
PM: Well in Japan where melons cost 30 bucks a pop, farmers employ MRIs.
AB: Ha ha ha! MRIs!
PM: Uh huh.
AB: Do you mean Magnetic Resonance Imaging? [holds up an MRI of a melon]
PM: That's right. See, it shows them when the sugar content is at its peak or if there are any big hollow spots.
AB: Or any inoperable tumors. Well, Produce Man, thank you for setting us straight.
ALL: Thank you, Produce Man!
PM: Well, that's why I'm here.

SCENE 3
The Kitchen

    Do you remember the last time that you bit into a really juicy, sweet, succulent cantaloupe? Well I'm willing to bet that unless you spend a good bit of time in Europe, you never have. Because this is not a cantaloupe, it's a musk melon, or 1 of about 8 hybrid musk melons that are sold as cantaloupes here in the United States. Now do you want to see a real cantaloupe? Well, go to France because I can't get one in the United States and I've got friends in pretty high places. It doesn't seem to matter. Now I'm sorry to kind of pull a fast one on you, but it just goes to prove that melons are a little bit of a mystery to most of us. For instance, did you know that melons are old? I mean really, really, really old.

SCENE 4
Egyptian Tomb

GUEST: Mummy

    As this sarcophagus clearly illustrates, melons were a very important part of early Egyptian culture. Take a look at this.

AB: [to the face on the sarcophagus] You don't mind, do you?

    Here we have an example of an early Egyptian sport, melon bowling. Here we have melons as building implements. That didn't go over real well in the desert. And here we have the early melon compass, which turned out to be a bit of a failure. The other thing that Egyptians really liked to do with melons was pack them in tombs as kind of snacks for the afterlife. Let's see what he's packing. [takes the lid off the sarcophagus]

MUMMY: [is holding a mummified melon]

    [takes the mummified melon] What a magnificent specimen. A perfectly mummified melon. Now this belongs in a museum. Mummies? Nah, we've got plenty of those.

MUMMY: [replaces the lid]

SCENE 5
The Dessert

    [AB is riding a camel] Melons have also nourished the living. At over 90 percent water, melons have long been thought of as ready-made canteens, providing a safe source of liquid refreshment as well as valuable nutrients in arid regions.

crenshaw melon

a winter melon also known as a 'crane'.

canary melon

an inodorous melon whose flesh is sweet

SCENE 6
The Kitchen

    If there is a general sense of melon malaise in America, I believe it stems from the fact that melons are, by and large, kind of tricky to peel and portion. Now believe me, I've peeled and portioned a lot of melons in my time, and I do believe that this is the best way. All you need is a good cutting board and a serrated bread knife.
    Start by cutting a wee little pancake off of both the vine end and the blossom end. There. Now the orb will stand in an upright, secure position. Now place your knife at the top of the peel and use a short sawing motion to the bottom. Turn the melon a few degrees and repeat, starting the cut right at the edge of the old one. And just work your way all the way around. Try not to take too much melon, but you do want to get all the green off. There. Now we split longitudinally and remove the seeds. I think I'll go to the sink for this.
    When it comes to seed removal, you've got 2 options. You can use an oversized service spoon, but I personally find this a little clunky. I just go with the clean hand method. Nice and simple.
    When it comes to slicing, place the halves down and cut from end to end in half-inch slices. Just like down at the old breakfast bar. Now some of you may be tempted to employ a melon-baller when it comes to melon portioning. After all, this is named for a melon. It makes sense. But I think there's a little bit of waste going on here. What do you think? [holds up a musk melon with lots of holes but lots of waste] Well now that you've got the cantaloupe ... oh, sorry, musk melon down ... how about we super-size our melon?
    With the possible exception of a very large Thanksgiving turkey, this is probably the largest thing you will ever try to disassemble in your kitchen. But it's going to be tougher than carving up a turkey because it is very hard on the outside and it is a heck of a lot rounder than a turkey. But believe it or not, we can use the exact same methodology as we employed on our musk melon, although I am going to switch over to a motorized electric serrated knife. And you can see, I've armed myself for a little bit more mess. [he's wearing a plastic poncho]
    Step one, turn the watermelon so that the flattest spot, the ground spot, is facing downward. That gives us a relatively stable surface. First, take off both ends of the watermelon so that you can stand it up. Then just start filleting off the sides, one by one. Oh, melon juice is really hard to get off leather, so you may want to get rid of that [watch with leather wrist band] before you go any further.
    Try to remove as much of the white as you can while leaving as much of the red as possible. Portion by laying it down and cutting into 2-inch rounds. Then stack up those rounds and cut them into pie-like wedges.
    Oh, it's full. [the container holding the watermelon portions] I guess I'll just have to eat this. Pity.
    You know, etiquette books written in the early 20th century, say that watermelon seed spitting is perfectly polite. Mmm. This stuff's good and good for you. Melon's an excellent source of folate, fiber, potassium. Some have added doses of beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, phosphorous and magnesium. And watermelon is one of the only foods that delivers more of the anti-oxidant lycopene than tomatoes. Mmm. Only tomatoes don't have seeds for spitting. Dang.

The world record watermelon seed spit: over 60 feet.

    Use the word cooking and melon in the same sentence and a lot of melon lovers will look at you like you just got off the ship from, I don't know, Romulus 5. And that is a real shame because although they are really great when they are raw, melons bloom best when the heat is on. The secret is to use really, really, really high heat. How much heat are we talking? Wok this way.

SCENE 7
Backyard

    Now this hot melon salad is a stir fry, which means we are going to use a wok over a very, very powerful burner. Now you could do this in a really big skillet, you know, in the kitchen. But the truth is, skillets aren't very good for keeping a large amount of food moving, and most American cook tops don't generate enough fire power. There aren't enough BTUs to really get this thing as hot as we want it to be. Now this is going to happen very, very quickly. Once we get started, the culinary train won't be a-stoppin'. So make sure you have all of your mise en place, that's French for everything in place, in place.
    Now we have to check to see if the wok is hot enough. We do that with just a little bit of water. When it does that [flash boils], we definitely know it's hot enough. So here we go. I'll wipe out the water.

    A tablespoon and a half of olive oil goes down. Quickly swirl. One red onion, small, sliced thin. I'm going to toss that for just maybe 30 seconds to a minute. 1 1/2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion Slice Thin
    Next up, the melon: 16 ounces of melon; that's about 2 cups. Now I like to use a mixture. I've got honeydew here, along with canta ... sorry, musk melon. It goes right into the pan. There'll be a lot of steam. Don't be alarmed. Now we're going to toss this and let it cook for about another minute, or just until the melon starts to take on a little color around the edges. 16 Ounces Diced Melon

    And I should add: anytime that you're cooking outside with charcoal, or with LP gas as I am here, you always want to have ... [holds up a fire extinguisher] I don't even need to say it, do I? Hopefully we never will need it, but at least we've got it here.

    There. Now the melon is just about done. So I'm going to add a tablespoon of basil chiffonade, a very, very fine shred. That's going to release the flavor very quickly. Another pinch of salt and about half a teaspoon of black pepper. And we'll let that cook just until the basil becomes fragrant. 1 Tbs. Basil Chiffonade
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
    There. As you can see, we're getting some nice color around on the melon, and the onion is definitely cooked, so I think it's time to exit the pan. But first, 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar. That's just going to up the acidity because high heat has a tendency to lower the acidity of fruit. 2 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
    There we go. Now this is going to go straight into our serving bowl and 2 ounces of feta cheese goes over that, and a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts. There we go. And we have the, well, the dish that breaks all the melon rules, a hot melon salad. Oh, got to turn this off. 2 Ounces Feta Cheese
1 Tbs. Toasted Pine Nuts

 

casaba melon

inodorous melon with great flavor

orange fleshed honeydew

a winter melon considered to
be the sweetest of them all

SCENE 8
The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    Mmm. You know, heat may be a treat, but the amazing melon can deliver equal pleasure on the opposite side of the thermal wheel. I speak, of course, of the frozen delight known as sorbet. Now granted, the juice of just about any fruit can be made into sorbet, but melons are particularly well-suited to the task because their flavor and aroma come through even when they're very, very cold. And since their flesh is very smooth when pureed, you don't have to strain out any pulp. That means more fiber in the juice and that means a smoother texture. [tries to get some of the sorbet out of a container, but it's frozen solid] Okay, so we still have a little texture problem here. That could be caused by the fact that melons are about 90 percent water, and when water freezes, well, you know. So how can we convert this hard iciness into something a little bit more palatable? By adding antifreeze.

THING: [hands AB a bottle of car antifreeze]
AB: Edible antifreeze, that is.

SCENE 9
Swimming Pool

GUESTS: 8 Woman Synchronized Swimming Team

SWIMMERS: [the swimmers form a large circle around AB who is standing the middle of a pool]

    Let's pretend for a moment that these swimmers are water molecules inside our melon. Now as they get closer to the freezing point, they are going to slow down. Eventually, they'll hook together in a crystalline structure we call ice.

SWIMMERS: [the swimmers move closer and then form a square around AB]

    Lovely though it is, this is a bad thing for us, because it means that eventually our sorbet will be hard as a rock. Nope. If we're going to keep our sorbet soft and scoop-able, we're going to have to prevent some of these water molecules from joining that crystalline structure. How are we going to do it? We're going to bind them up with sugar.

SWIMMERS: [4 of the swimmers have plastic tubes tossed over their heads]

    So now when we churn our sorbet, we'll end up with zillions of eentsy beentsy little ice crystals ...

SWIMMERS: [only 4 of the swimmers can form a square which is now much smaller]

... completely surrounded by a very saturated sugar solution. In other words, a sorbet is really just a slush that remains scoop-able and soft, even at freezer temperatures.

Dating from 1585 sorbet was originally a cool drink made from fruit.

SCENE 10
The Kitchen

    Weigh out 1 pound, 5 ounces of watermelon and puree in your food processor. This is going to yield about 3 cups of puree total. There. Now move that to a work bowl and mix with 2 cups of granulated sugar. And make sure you stir it until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Then move it to the fridge.
    So why bother putting this in the refrigerator when we're just going to turn around and throw it in an ice cream churn? Because the faster the mixture freezes in the churn, the finer the sorbet texture is going to be. So it makes sense that we should have the mixture as cold as possible before it goes in the churn to cut down on the freezing time. So give it at least 2 hours in your fridge.
    Now churn according to the instructions supplied by your churn's manufacturer. And remember, these cores need to freeze for a full 24 hours before you use them. Then you can generally get 2 batches out of them before refreezing. Oh, and always make sure that the machine is running when the mixture goes in.
    Now in 20 to 25 minutes this is going to be as set as it's ever going to get inside the churn. So we're going to remove it and get it into the freezer to harden for several hours.

galia melon

a hybrid of a muskmelon & a honeydew

santa claus

also known as the 'Burse Turkey'

Musk Melon

a mid-season melon named for
its musky scent

SCENE 11
The Kitchen

    Ah, melon sorbet. And you can really smell the melon. Well, I can. You, you probably can't. Let's see how it tastes. Mmm. Well, the texture's dead-on perfect but it's a little on the sweet side. Like a ton of cotton candy sweet. I think we're going to have to replace some of our sugar antifreeze with, well, consider the following.

SCENE 12
The Ocean

    Whew! On the fateful night of April 14, 1912, Chief Baker, Charles Joughin, just jumped off the back of the Titanic and started swimming. Now after frolicking with the ice floes for a couple of hours, he was fished out of the chilly drink by some nice people in a passing lifeboat. When questioned as to how he possibly could have survived in those temperatures, he said that it was probably because he was tanked to the gills on brandy. And he could be right. If he had enough alcohol in his blood, it could have acted as a kind of antifreeze.
    Now what does this have to do with making sorbet? Well it means that if we replace some of the sugar with alcohol, we can preserve that texture we've come to know and love while getting rid of some of the sweetness. What kind of alcohol should we use? Well, heck, nothing wrong with good old vodka. After all, it is relatively neutral in flavor. Of course, Midori would be nice too, seeing how it's made from melon and all.

SCENE 13
The Kitchen

    This time, we'll take the very same 1 pound, 5 ounces of melon, and we'll puree it again in our food processor. But that's not all. This time we're going to add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. And of course, fresh-squeezed would be superior to the store-bought type. Then 2 tablespoons of vodka. But wait, there's more. Since we're thinking ahead, no reason not to go ahead and add 9 ounces of sugar. That's about one and a quarter cups. 1 Pound 5 Ounces Melon
3 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice
2 Tbs. Vodka
9 Ounces Sugar

    [runs the mixture through the churn] Although you could certainly consume your young sorbet in its current slushy state, I strongly advise that you stash this in your freezer and allow it to harden for 3 to 4 hours. Believe me, your patience will be rewarded.

    I hope that we've helped you to find a new perspective on a family of fruits that you may have taken just a wee bit for granted in the past. The melons. You know, there's no real mystery to melons. But if there's a trick, I'd say that it's in finding ripe melons in season, which as far as I'm concerned, is the only time they should be consumed. Luckily, they grow just about year-round somewhere in the world and they ship pretty easily. So you're in luck. Once you know how to pick them, sky's the limit.

J: Did I hear you say pick 'em? Well, you got any feelings about this here honeydew?

    See you next time on Good Eats.

J: All right then, what about this casaba here? I tell you what, AB, I'll split the action with you 70-30.
AB: 70-30?
JIMMY: 60-40 then. All right, all right. 50-50. And I tell you what, I'll even make you my 5-star lock of the week. What do you say, AB?


Transcribed by Mike Diruscio
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010