None Dare Call it Cantaloupe

by Andy Griffin

I knew the Pope had a hand in it...and the tomb builders of ancient Egypt, too. But it wasn't until recently that I began to wonder if Bush was involved as well, along with the illuminati, the CIA, and whoever that occult force is that stares down on us with one eye ever open from atop its pyramid on the obverse side of every greenback dollar. I'm talking about the cantaloupe deception, of course.

Cantaloupe sounds like it ought to be a French-speaking island in the Caribbean but it's really a tiny bluish-striped melon from Armenia. Super fragrant, honey-sweet and weighing on average just under two pounds the single serving-sized cantaloupe, Cucumis melo cantalupensis, seems created by God for retail. This melon's hard shell helps in shipping too. So why has the mainstream media kept cantaloupe's true identity a secret? Why have supermarkets plotted to feed us imposter musk melons? Looking for answers I turned first to T.E. Lawrence and his epic historical narrative of the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

In October, 1917, Bedouin tribes, with the assistance of adventurer T.E. Lawrence liberated Akaba from the Turks and captured an army. But victor and vanquished alike were on the edge of starvation with nothing to eat but bony, war-wearied camels. If they ate the camels no one would ever get out of Akaba. So Lawrence and a handful of Arab companions set out across open desert towards Suez seeking help. At dawn on the tenth of October, after great tribulations, they stumbled into a melon patch in the Mitla hills and sliced unripe melons open, pressing the juicy flesh to their parched and splitting lips.

War is hell. For 80 days a grower nurtures a melon crop against the sun, splashing it daily with water, protecting the floppy green leaves from rasping winds, sucking insects and hungry camels. Then, before the crop is even ripe some Hollywood-handsome British soldier-scholar-poet-spy pops up with a band of fiercely armed goat herders and they decimate the patch. At least the Arab rebels knew what they were doing. Melons are but a sugared form of cucumber and even their moist unripened flesh could serve as cucumber slices do for a restorative salve on burned and irritate skin. Don't like the flavor of the melon you bought at the supermarket? Wipe it on your face and save on moisturizing cream.

Lawrence doesn't say they ate any melons but I'd be surprised if they didn't. An Arab saying has it that "he who fills his belly with melons is like he who fills it with light - there is baraka in them." Baraka means blessedness and implies a mystical quality of divine protection. With the Turks in front, the sun overhead, and starvation behind Lawrence and his raiders would need all the baraka they could get. Unripe melons just taste like cucumbers, anyway - a little vinaigrette and "voila!"

Maybe the patch had ripe melons and Lawrence didn't know how to pick them. Not all melons are easy to harvest. Some, like musk melons, are ready to pick when you can pop the fruit off the vine with a "slip" of the thumb. Any idiot can do this. But other melons, like the charentais cantaloupe I grow, require judgement.

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Charentais are an old world heirloom. They do not "slip" off when ripe. Rather, a picker must look to the last pair of leaves on the stem near the fruit. Are these leaves turning pale? Two tiny curling tendrils sprout from the crux of the internode there. Are those tendrils shriveled yet? And the smooth rind - is it straw colored with blue gray stripes? Does the melon have a seductive scent? Is there a little yellow patch where the fruit has rested on warm ground? In a cantaloupe harvest being multilingual, being an archeologist and a poet, being a warrior and a lover, being Lawrence of Arabia - it doesn't help. Melon harvesting requires finesse. Lawrence's Arab companions probably couldn't give him tips on selecting for ripeness because their mouths were full. With this realization the flickering outline of conspiracy began to take form before me like a mirage.

I knew the arid sweep of the Middle East was the ancestral home of the melon. Before humankind came along the ball of water that is every melon served as reservoir for the seeds it contained. As the melon decomposed the water it released would nurture the sprouting seeds until rains fell. Once people cultivated melons they selected seeds from the sweetest fruits to plant again. Ancient Egypt cultivated melons. Numbers chapter 11, verse 5 of the Bible finds recently freed Hebrews lamenting the melons and cucumbers they left behind with slavery. Later, during the Roman Empire the most flavorful melons were shipped by boat from Asia minor to Rome. Barbarian invasions ended that commerce and Rome knew no more of the melon. Until the 1400's, that is.

Agents of the Vatican roaming the fringes of the Middle East early in the fifteenth century found what was rumored to be the tastiest of all melons being cultivated in Armenia. The Pope knew of melons from reading his Bible. Seeds were brought back and plantings established at the Papal Estates of Cantaluppi outside Rome. Soon the Pontiff had bevies of maidens delivering the summers' first harvests of ripe melons to him at Castel Gandolfo. It wasn't but a hundred years before the French got a hold of these fruits they called cantaloupes. Soon the French claimed to grow the best cantaloupes in the world and named several varieties including charentais, noir des carmes, and vendantais.

In time even the Americans were exposed to the cantaloupe. Stateside growers preferred to raise musk melons though, Cucumis melo reticulatus. With it's webbed hide and it's much larger size the muskmelon didn't look like a cantaloupe or smell as rich as the vera cantaluppi. But hey, size matters, and besides, musk melons can be slipped from the vine. Finesse doesn't count for much in American agriculture. Marketing does, thought, so the musk melon was dubbed cantaloupe to appeal to social climbing post-colonials with a taste for all things French. Neither the CIA nor Bush have been implicated-yet-in this train of events but ol' one eyed Dollar Bill sure looks guilty.

None dared called them cantaloupe but's all out in the open now. Be deceived no longer. Purchase Mariquita Farm cantaloupes and get a taste of what the Pope has always known; a belly full of baraka, golden flesh sweet enough to light up the illuminati, melons packaged by providence into retail-sized units easy to carry home. Provecho!

copyright 2003 Andy Griffin




These are our charentais cantaloupe melons.