Cantaloupe Melons have a warty rind. Inside, they are juicy, sweet and yellow, becoming more yellow as they ripen.
In the Italian mind, "Cantaloupe" is more the name of a group of melons, in which there are many varieties.
For what North Americans call "Cantaloupe Melon", see Muskmelon.
Cantaloupe can be served as is (though it is nicer when slightly chilled), or sprinkled with salt and pepper or powdered ginger, or with a splash of citrus juice. Italians often serve it with prosciutto, which is a holdover from Medieval medical beliefs.
In books, on magazines, and on the web, both on government web sites and others, you will read "originally developed in a papal villa / a famous castle in Italy /papal country home / papal country villa / monastery at Cantalupo in Italy." Sometimes, "near Rome" is added, as writes even the late Alan Davidson, author of The Penguin Companion to Food: "named for the town of Cantalupo near Rome."
The root of the problem perhaps lies in the fact that what the Americans call Cantaloupe isn't Cantaloupe. Why this is a problem is that every food writer is so breathless to blurt out that particular "revelation" that in their haste they just blithely parrot what they've read elsewhere about the Pope or Rome without stopping to think.
First, what period are we really talking about? You will see anywhere from 1300 to 1600, but given that Cantaloupes were supposedly introduced to France by Charles VIII, King from 1483 to 1498, that really narrows us down to a 15 year period, so we have to move fast.
And speaking of moving fast, no matter what time you pick during the above ranges, journeys were made by horse or by foot. Granted, both were probably a lot more reliable -- and comfortable -- than Italian trains, but even so, when you're plodding about on an old nag or on dusty feet, what constitutes near? And remember, we're talking about the Pope here. They were really busy back then: Inquisitions to run, religious orders to suppress.
But to get back to the point, where exactly is "Cantalupo in Italy". Saying Cantalupo, Italy is like saying Smithville, USA -- which one? There are 6 possible candidates for our melon story, though there are at least 4 more places called Cantalupo, plus one Cantalupa near Torino.
- Cantalupo nel Sannio is north east of Naples at the base of Mount Monta, on which is a monastery. Pope Celestine V lived in Naples while he was pope for 3 1/2 months in 1294. Not quite long enough for him to get involved in gardening, and Naples is a bit far from Rome, especially in those days, to be considered near for a Pope.
- Cantalupo di Bevagna in Umbria. You can bike it from Assisi. (Do Popes ever bike it? There've been some lean times, like when the Reformation hit and all that money from up north stopped flowing in.) This Cantalupo has the bonus of having a "Castello (Castle) Cantalupi" (also called "Castrum Cantalupi"). Today this Cantalupo is known for its snails (as in the ones you eat). Snails like melons, don't they?
- Catalupo di Sabina -- It is 50 km / 35 miles from Rome. In Roman times, it was called Mandela; the ruins of the Villa of Horace, the Roman writer, are here (and before that, you're right, that's where all those Sabine women lived.) In the Middle Ages, it was called Cantalupo-Bardela. There was a "castle" here, or at least a fortress, which was prettified into a Palazzo now called Camuccini. Pius IV granted the castle to Marcantonio Cesi, nephew of Cardinal Pierdonato Cesi in 1565. So Pius might have been welcome to crash there and try his hand at hoeing the occasional weed.
- The castle of Cantalupo, in the Marca d'Ancona (or the March of Ancona, which was a region that laid between Romagna and Apulia, the kingdom of Charles of Anjou). Again, a bit far to whip off to for weekend gardening in one's allotment.
- Cantalupo in Liguria -- has a castle, but then what town in Italy doesn't, and again, too far.
- And finally, Cantalupo is also a family name in Italian, so if the castle had been called "Castello Cantalupo", it could have been just the Cantalupos' family pile, located anywhere.
There's another possibility. There is a Cantaloup village in southern France. There were pope's in Avignon in southern France, don't forget. That all this might have come about in France is yet another version being spun out there. The American Heritage Dictionary says it might have been the French village of Cantaloup, and even some Italian glossaries just say "Cantalupo: tipo di melone (Francia)" (type of melon - France).
All the above versions, though, hold that the seeds were brought to this undefined Cantalupo from the east somewhere -- Armenia, Persia, etc., but that is easily topped: one Italian version holds that melons didn't disappear from Italy with the Roman Empire, but that through all the centuries afterward, people had continued to grow them along with their other fruits and veg at Cantalupo (but again, which one?)
What's really odd about this is that no Italian town, either named "Cantalupo" or holding or that used to hold a place, structure, edifice or garden patch called "Cantalupo" is laying claim to the fame. All Italian towns are just the teensiest bit quiet about what they did when Mussolini was in power, but they aren't shy about bragging about their food products. But even the Catalupo di Sabina, the best candidate based on proximity and sort of having a castle, mentions only their olive oil: "Explore the world of extra virgin olive oil 'made in Sabina'. The first Italian olive oil to receive the 'DOC' quality mark." And Cantalupo di Bevagna wouldn't want us to forget its snails.
The award, though, has to go to Kevin Stein, Poet Laureate of Illinois (2003 - 2007), for taking it all to new heights: "This poem esteems the cantaloupe, from Italian Cantalupo, papal village near Rome where the good pontiff prayed hard for the seed to take hold." Now we have the pope praying over melon seeds. And so the story grows.
This all has "food myth" written all over it. Food myths usually associate themselves with someone famous or noble, and situate themselves far enough back in the past that you can't prove or disprove them, and give just enough of a detail, such as a place name, that your mind is tempted to believe it, because we all like black and white facts. But as far as actual history goes, this one's a melon.
Cantaloupe MelonsBlue Ridge Melons; Butterscotch Melons; Cantaloupe Melons; Hale's Best Jumbo Cantaloupe Melons; Honeyball Melons; Montreal Melons; Noir des Carmes Melons
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