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Harper melons are a small to medium-sized varietal, averaging 10 to 18 centimeters in length and 4 to 6 pounds, and have a uniform, round to oblong shape with blunt, curved ends. Several types of melons are generally labeled as Harper melons, and most varieties showcase a light tan to green, firm, and tough rind, covered in a rough, raised, and light brown exterior. Underneath the surface, the flesh is thick, dense, semi-aqueous, and firm with a succulent consistency. The flesh is mainly orange, but just below the rind, there is a thin, dark green ring. There is also a small central cavity filled with fibers and ivory, oval seeds encased in a light coating of gelatinous liquid. When ripe, Harper melons have a faint musky aroma and will feel heavy for their size, yielding slightly to pressure at the blossom end. The melon’s flesh contains a moderate sugar content, reaching 10 to 14 Brix, a unit of sugar measurement, contributing to the fruit’s sweet, floral, and fruity flavor.
Harper melons are available in the late summer through the fall.
Harper melons, botanically classified as Cucumis melo, are hybrid melons belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The name Harper is a general descriptor used to label melons exhibiting long storage capabilities and a sweet taste. Harper melons were developed by scientists as improved varieties suitable for cultivation in many different climates. The melons also met the market demand for cultivars that could be shipped and exported long distances. Growers highly favor Harper melons for their resistance to disease, hardiness, extended shelf life, and concentrated, sweet flavor. The melons are grown commercially and in home gardens worldwide, and some of the varieties include Queen RZ, Caribbean King RZ, Alanis Gold, Cayucos Beach RZ, Sweet Break, Cruiser, Ever Summer, Infinite Gold, Palmira, and Novira.
Harper melons are an excellent source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The melons also provide beta-carotene, the orange pigment found in the melon’s flesh that provides antioxidant-like properties to protect the cells from free radical damage, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and lower amounts of magnesium, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, and thiamine.
Harper melons have a sweet flavor well suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The melons can be used interchangeably with common cantaloupes in recipes and are most popularly consumed straight, out of hand. Harper melons can be sprinkled with salt or spices for enhanced flavoring, sliced and tossed into green salads, cubed and stirred into fruit bowls, or blended into chilled soups. The melons can also be pureed and frozen into popsicles or sorbet, wrapped with cured meats and skewered as an appetizer, grated as a side dish to grilled pork, or chopped into a relish for steak. In addition to raw preparations, Harper melons can be simmered into a sweet cream sauce for pasta, baked into tea loaves, sprinkled with brown sugar and lightly grilled, or roasted and used as a topping for cereal and ice cream. They can also be cooked into jam. Beyond culinary dishes, Harper melons can be incorporated into smoothies, agua fresca, cocktails, and granita. The rinds can also be halved, hollowed, and served as a unique cup or bowl. Harper melons pair well with fruits such as lime, coconut, and raspberry, ginger, cucumber, fennel, spices including cardamom, coriander, and marjoram, herbs such as basil, cilantro, tarragon, mint, and parsley, cheeses such as feta, goat, mozzarella, and ricotta, maple syrup, honey, and nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, and pepitas. Whole, unwashed Harper melons will keep anywhere from 10 to 30 days at room temperature, depending on storage conditions and degree of ripeness. Once sliced, the melons should be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Harper melons are a part of an emerging trend in the melon-growing region of the San Joaquin Valley in California. Long Shelf Life, or LSL type melons, are varieties that have been bred to exhibit extended storage capabilities beyond traditional melons. LSL melons were developed from western shipping varieties or cantaloupes that were commonly grown in the western United States. The improved varieties hold their sugar and soluble solids content for a more extended period in the field, allowing growers to harvest the melons less frequently, creating more flexibility for labor requirements. The melons also survive longer exporting and shipping times, providing flavorful, fresh melons to commercial markets far away from the growing region. In the United States, Heidi melons, Sweet Sunrise, and Sweet Spring melons are some of the newer LSL Harper-type melons. In Australia, Claudia melons are a Harper cultivar that was introduced during a field day in the summer of 2013. The variety was highly favored for its disease and pest resistance, long storage time, and flavor and has become one of the most popular melons grown throughout the country.
Harper melons were developed from cantaloupe varieties commonly grown throughout California, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada of the United States. While the exact history of the melon is unknown due to multiple varieties being created over time, the majority of Harper-type melons were released during the 20th and 21st centuries. Sakata Seed America and Syngenta Seeds are two of the leading companies developing Harper melon varieties. Once released to commercial growers, Harper melons are grown worldwide for their sweet flesh and extended storage capabilities. The hardy melons are commonly cultivated in the Western United States, Mexico, South America, and Australia. When in season, Harper melons can be found through select grocers, farmer’s markets, and distributors.
Recipes that include Harper Melon. One is easiest, three is harder.