Since melons have no starch preserves to convert to sugar, they will not ripen further once they are picked. Growers pick melons when they are ripe but firm. Invariably, some melons are picked too early, so it is important to know the characteristics of a ripe melon.

They should be regularly shaped--symmetrically round, oval, or oblong—free of cracks, soft spots, or dark bruises. While ripe melons may be firm, slight softness is a good sign. Look for a clean, smooth break at the stem end, rather than a broken stem. Casabas and water-melons may show bits of stem. A full, fruity fragrance is a clue to the maturity of most melons, but there may be no sweet odor if the melons have been chilled, and some have no aroma when ripe. Traditional methods such as thumping and shaking are not accurate indicators of ripeness.

The eating quality can be improved by leaving them at room temperature for two to four days. The fruit will not become sweeter, but it will turn softer and juicier. If during that tie the fruit has not reached its peak ripeness, it was picked immature.

Once ripened or cut, melons should be refrigerated and used within two days. Enclose them in plastic bags to protect other foods from the ethylene gas that melons give off. An uncut watermelon can be stored at room temperature for up to one week, except in summer when room temperatures are very high. It takes 8 to 12 hours to chill a whole watermelon thoroughly. Cut watermelon should be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated no more than four days.

Melon based fruit salads—for breakfast, appetizers, or desserts—are subject to nearly endless variations. Mix different types of melons with raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, or oranges. Then flavor this mixture with fruit juice or liqueur.

To prepare a decorative party dessert, use a melon baler to scoop out different varieties of melon. Heap the balls into a hollowed out melon shell with same-sized balls of sherbet. Thread a mixture of cubes of cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon onto wooden skewers. These can be grilled and served as a side dish or dessert at a barbeque meal.

Melon halves or wedges make appealing containers for other foods. Serve cold cereal, cottage cheese, or yogurt in a melon bowl; heap shrimp, chicken or tuna salad in melon “boats”.