Get the scoop
Shudder-inducing childhood memories of watery melons are banished with this summer’s glut of perfumed produce. Blitzed with a dash of citrus and frozen into a glittering sorbet, it makes a perfect finale to an end-of-summer feast
Jeremy Lee’s melon sorbet
There is a scene in the film The Day of The Jackal when Edward Fox, as the Jackal, an assassin deluxe, corrects the sights on his bespoke rifle to shoot a watermelon. It is his target practice for shooting President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand) and it is a scene to make you shudder (although the president was spared the fate of the watermelon, unlike the would-be assassin). I confess to having an ambivalence towards watermelons – bombastic, blustering great gourds that are all show and no tell. But I do quite like the flesh when it is whizzed and poured on to a Campari and soda with lots of ice on a day so hot that only an ocean of fruit and juice will keep one from expiring ...
I was ambivalent also to the scentfree melons of my youth – brightyellow, missile-shaped numbers that appeared at Christmas, which held more water than a gutter in the rain, and less flavour than the vaguest whiff of fruit. They were the stuff of hotel buffets, making a sad appearance alongside crumpled slices of parma ham pulled from a tin. It has to be said, if a lacklustre apple is disappointing then an unripe, tasteless, watery melon is a source of abject misery.
Melon suffered the way of the avocado and courgette back then. Folk got away with criminal acts against fruits. Quality and flavour were dirty words spoken in hushed terms. (That said, it is reassuring that a melon – despite its abundant availability year-round – is rarely seen enrobed in plastic with a highly suspect shelf life.) Although I had eaten melon many times before, I did not taste My First Melon until I was 11, while on holiday in France. Ah, those markets. You smelt them before you saw them, the air heady with peaches, basil, tomatoes and that most perfumed produce of all ... melons. This was an early lesson in shopping. Buy it when it’s good.
Melon is best in the summer, when it has feasted on sunshine and is done to a turn on the vine. They need warmth and become marvellous with good husbandry. Suppliers speak in reverent tones when talking of melons. There are many stories; Gillian Riley’s wonderful Oxford Companion to Italian Food tells the tale of the emperor Decimus Clodius Albinus (quite Hogwart’s, that name … ) who, it is said, at one sitting ate 100 peaches from Campania and topped them off with 10 melons from Ostia. Pope Paul II is said to have died of apoplexy in 1471 from a surfeit of melons.
The recipe today is swiftly done, requiring only a few things to make a marvellous sorbet. So few ingredients means there is no excuse but to buy the best melons. I urge you towards canteloupe – the gnarled and veined green-skinned variety with beautiful
orange flesh within. We also use two varieties stocked by Natoora (available through Ocado) – the Sun Sweet and Honey Moon (very Ian Fleming!). If you can’t find them try any cantaloupe, charentais, or an old friend, Galia Melon. Needless to say, the riper the melon, the better the sorbet. A jigger of Campari or a splash of vodka poured on top is a welcome addition.
Melon sorbet Serves 6
A melon or two weighing about 1kg, rendering about 800g flesh
The juice of 2 lemons
The juice of 3 oranges
350g icing sugar
1 Quarter the melon. Remove the seeds. Should the melon be truly ripened, it is usually worthwhile putting the seeds into a sieve and, using a ladle, pushing through any melon juice remaining. Cut the flesh from the skin. Chop the flesh and blitz with any melon juice accrued. Add the lemon and orange juices along with the icing sugar. Blend until very smooth. Pour through a sieve and push through once more with a ladle.
2 Pour the sorbet into an ice-cream churner and follow the maker’s instructions. One can achieve a similar result by putting it in a bowl in the freezer and whisking every 10 minutes until frozen.
Ah, those markets. You smelt them before you saw them, the air heady with that most perfumed produce of all ... melons