Sweet “popone” (Melon) and tasty ham, what a couple!

The melon has been cultivated since ancient times, the first evidence of its cultivation dates back to over 4,000 years ago.

Originally from Asia or tropical Africa, it is appreciated for its sweet flavour, juicy texture and characteristic aroma, the latter indicating, for more expert noses, the point of maturation before even opening it.

But we, here in Florence and throughout Tuscany, call it ‘popone’… The derivation of the word is not clear, it seems that it comes from the classical Latin “pepo-onis” (in Pliny the Elder, 1st century AD) which in turn could derive from the ancient Greek “pèpon”, or “cooked in the sun”, “ripe”, as if to say that it is good when eaten ripe.

And if in Florence it is better to always ask for it with the name “popone”, greater attention must be paid not to call it ‘melon’ in the beautiful and Etruscan Volterra (PI), where, in the jargon, melon is used to mean mortadella!

However, a combination that everyone agrees on is the one between the sweet ‘popone’ and the tasty ham, one of the most famous summer pairings of Italian gastronomy. It is said that it was Hippocrates, the renowned physician of ancient Greece considered the father of medicine, who discovered the positive effects of this culinary combination. It is said that he advised his patients to consume this combination to balance the effects of heat and cold in the body. The melon was considered a wet and cold food, while the ham a hot and dry food, thanks to the curing process that “warms and dries”. Furthermore, the first one makes us reintegrate the liquids we need a lot during the hot summer period, and the second one is good for introducing proteins and mineral salts.

For the popone, we make sure it is well scented and ripe (find it out by smelling the bottom, the attachment to the stem… if it smells good then it will be sweet!), for the ham we naturally choose a seasoned Tuscan.