It's one of summer's eternal questions: How do you choose a good melon? Though I've been working on it for 20 years, I'm still finding my way. The surest solution is to find a great melon man; I buy my fruit from Neil Ims at the Weiser Family Farms stand at the Long Beach farmers market, and he's never steered me wrong. Failing that, here are some tips:
First, remember that there are three main families of melons, and each has its own markers.
• For melons with rough, netted rinds (such as muskmelons and cantaloupes), the best indicator is a powerful perfume; you'll be able to smell them from a distance. The netting should be raised and the rind underneath should be tan to golden, not green. These melons "slip" from their stems when ripe, so the bellybutton will be clean. Another tip from Ims: On really sweet ones, you'll see some cracking around the bellybutton.
• Smooth-skinned melons (such as honeydews) are harder to choose. There is little or no perfume (their Latin family name is Inodorous). The best clue is a rich, creamy color with a hint of gold, as opposed to gray; also, the surface of the rind will feel slightly waxy as opposed to smooth and polished. If you find a melon that has freckles, buy it: Those are sugar spots.
• Watermelons will also have a waxy skin. Look also for a vivid green color and check the couche, the pale spot where it rested on the ground: It should be pronounced and golden. And yes, give a watermelon a thump. It should sound like a hollow-core door.