To simply classify a Charentais melon as a gourmet French Cantaloupe does not do nearly enough to describe the aromatic, deliciously rich and downright luxurious experience that comes with consuming - or even just smelling - them. Originated in the 1920's in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France, the Charentais was developed as a refined cantaloupe, The flavour speaks volumes about the skill and patience of French cultivators from almost 100 years ago.
Because Charentais need some tender loving care to avoid bruising and can't easily be shipped long distances, few groceries will carry them and large scale farms will not usually grow them.
Grapefruit sized, they will have a creamy-tan skin with dark green sutures when ripe. Slice one open to find a deep orange hue with an easily-scooped-out small seed pocket in the centre of the fruit. Their flesh is firmer and richer than your average cantaloupe, and the flavour is pretty much unsurpassed: sweet, with an even - but not overpowering - musky note and smooth texture. This complexity makes Charentais an ideal melon for pairing with other ingredients.
Charentais' size make them the perfect melon for two people to share, or one to enjoy thoroughly. Choose them mostly by their smell - the richer their aroma, the richer their taste. Sometimes the most ripe and ready Charentais melons will have small cracks on their blossom ends, where the flavour could no longer be contained.
In general, melons are lovers of warmth, which makes them short season crops for the U.K., whereas in warm countries they are grown in succession for export to temperate zones. They typically grow best under glass, but can be grown outdoors in warmer regions. They can be grown in grow bags in a glasshouse or in a poly tunnel. They can be outdoors in well prepared ground with lots of organic matter in the soil. (Composted grass clippings and straw are ideal.). Plants can be trained vertically or, if space is not a problem, can be left to sprawl along the ground.
Melons prefer is diffuse light rather than bright light. The soil should be rich and well drained, and like the atmosphere around them, kept continually moist.
They need higher temperatures than tomatoes and high humidity but will grow well with cucumbers which require similar conditions. Contrary to popular belief, you can grow melons alongside cucumbers; they are similar, but will not cross-pollinate each other
Sowing: Sow from March to the end of May
Melon seeds are sown from late winter to spring in hotter countries, but in our temperate zone sow indoors from March to the end of May. Sow 1cm (½in) deep directly into 8 to 10cm (3 to 4in) pots using standard free draining potting compost. Keep moist at all time. Seeds will germinate at temperatures above 21°C (68°F). Germination usually takes 6 to 10 days at 24°C (75°F).
Transplant when large enough to handle into 13cm (5in) pots. Grow on in good light at around 15 to 18°C (59 to 64) before planting 75 to 100cm (30 to 39in) apart when all risk of frost has passed. Planting into an unheated glasshouse or polytunnel must not take place until the compost or soil is sufficiently warm (18°C / 64°F ) and the air temperature likewise. Set the plants out firmly but do not compact the soil.
The planting area must be adjacent to suitable support if the melons are to be trained in conventional fashion. When planting, you may wish to inserting a 7cm (3in) pipe into the soil so you can water directly to the roots with a watering can.
Top dress with good compost when white roots are seen. If the basal leaves begin to yellow feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser. Feed weekly once the fruits begin to form.
Melons can be trained up a simple single line of string tied to the supports in the glasshouse roof and secured in the ground with a peg next to the base of the melon or use a fan trellis which is simple and reusable next season.
As the melon starts to grow, tie the strongest shoot to the support and pinch out the side shoots which grow from the main stem. As the plants grow pinch out each stem a couple of leaves beyond the female flowers.
Once the stem has reached the top of the support pinch out the leading shoot. This will make the plant concentrate on the formation of fruits. Sprawling plants are simply left to develop and restricted to avoid growth congestion as required.
Watering holds the key to successful melon growing. Regular watering is essential, try to keep the compost constantly moist but not wet. You need to water so that the plant never gets wet, avoid sogginess around the plant stem as this can cause stem rot. Over watering can cause the fruit to split. Possibly the best way to water is with a drip irrigation system.
Glasshouse conditions in high summer need to be kept humid on the hottest days by watering the path early in the morning or by standing a bucket of water in the glasshouse.
Melons need sufficient moisture while growing and fruiting, but prior to harvest, the best, sweetest flavour will occur if the plant is grown on the "dry" side. Cut back on watering the plant when you approach harvest, about three weeks prior to the main crop harvest.
Once the flowers have formed, you will need to pollinate the flowers. This is best carried out mid day when the humidity is high. Females have a swollen part at the base of the bloom. Either remove a male flower and place it inside a female bloom, or take a small paintbrush and lightly brush each flower in turn to. After 2 or 3 days remove the male flowers from the plants.
As soon as the fruits reach the size of tennis balls you need to use string nets or other means to support them. For sprawling plants, a layer of straw should be put down to prevent fruit damage. As the summer progresses and the fruits reach full size remove a few leaves to allow the fruit to ripen.
Harvest: July to August. 65 to 70 days to maturity.
Cantaloupe melons can range in size from 0.5 to 5.0 kg (1.1 to 11 lb). They typically weigh 1.2 to 1.4 kg. When they are ripe the skin will be a dull yellow background with raised netting. It will give off a good melon fragrance from the stem end and will sound hollow when you tap them or will show cracking around the stem.
Check the melon is a good size and weight, and if you\'re really lucky, the melon will easily come off the stem, leaving a small, clean depression. Another sign that it's ripe and ready for eating.
Melons will ripen when taken off the plant (provided they are mature enough when picked), and can be ripened in a fruit bowl with bananas.
Melon is from Medieval Latin melonem, from Latin melopeponem meaning 'a type of pumpkin'.
The cantaloupe derives its name from the Italian papal village of Cantalup, where it was first cultivated around 1700 A.D. Originally, cantaloupe referred only to the non-netted orange-fleshed melons of Europe; however, in more recent usage it has come to mean any orange-fleshed melon.
The charentais melon is a type of cantaloupe melon, Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis. It originated in the 1920's in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France, and was developed as a refined cantaloupe. Unlike another famous french melon, the Cavaillon, Charentais melons are not protected by an AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) which designates by law specific growing regions. Therefore, Charentais melons can legally be grown anywhere.
The annual festival the town of Saint-Georges-des-Coteaux honors the Charentais melon.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2.5 grams Average Seed Count 75 Seeds Seed Form Natural Common Name French Cantaloupe Other Common Names Netted melon, Rockmelon Other Language Names Nutmeg melon or Muskmelon Family Cucurbitaceae Genus Cucumis Species melo Cultivar Cantaloupe di Charentais Hardiness Annual Spacing 75 to 100cm (30 to 39in) apart Aspect Full sun. Time to Sow March to the end of May Germination 6 to 10 days at 24°C (75°F). Harvest 65 to 70 days to maturity Time to Harvest July to August.