One of the oldest cookery books I possess … not oldest in terms of age, oldest in that I’ve had it most of my adult life … is a hefty tome published by Reader’s Digest back in 1973, The Cookery Year. I can’t remember where I got it from or when but it travelled with me everywhere in my peripatetic youth.
Looking at it now some of the recipes seem a bit dated but there are some absolute classics in there and it was produced in that golden age when publishers employed editors, home economists and recipe testers, sadly not always the case in these cash-strapped times. Everything works.
The individual recipes aren’t attributed but the list of writers in the front includes some stellar names: Derek Cooper, Margaret Costa, Jane Grigson, Ken Lo, Katie Stewart. I don’t know who was responsible for this refreshing melon salad, but I’ve made it on and off for years and it’s a lovely start to a meal.
The original recipe calls for honeydew melon or, ‘for a special occasion’, Ogen or Charentais. I like it best with these smaller, highly perfumed fruits but I think it would also work with a good, juicy watermelon.
Whichever you choose, make sure it’s perfectly ripe as unripe melon is simply not worth the bother. The way to tell is to bring them to your nose and give them a good sniff. If they smell strongly of melon flesh, they’re ripe. If there’s a hint of turpentine, they’re over-ripe. If you can’t smell anything, put them back and eat something else.
I give the original vinaigrette below but I used the bitter-sweet, orange-scented The Colonel’s Poppy Seed Dressing from Suffolk company Scarlett and Mustard, which worked very well with the melon.
1 Charentais, Canteloupe or Ogen melon
1 smallish cucumber
Salt and black pepper
1 dessertspoon each of fresh chopped mint, chives, and parsley or chervil
For the dressing:
1-2 level tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice or tarragon vinegar
6 tbsp light olive oil
Peel and de-seed the cucumber, cut into 1/2″ dice and place in a sieve over the sink. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes.
Cut the melon in half and remove the seeds. Peel and dice, or if you have anything as recherché as a melon baller, scoop into small balls.
Skin and de-seed the tomatoes and cut into dice. Rinse the cucumber under cold water and pat dry on kitchen paper.
Put all the fruits into a bowl and mix with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can either save the herbs to use as a garnish or stir them through the salad. Chill before serving in individual glass bowls or cups.