Melons, squashes, and cucumbers are members of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family; they all grow on vines. Except for water melons, all melons resemble winter squashes in structure, they have a thick flesh with a central seed filled cavity. Water melon bears more resemblance to a cucumber, with its seeds dispersed in a radial pattern throughout its flesh. The principal difference between melons and squashes is the way they are used. While squashes are treated as vegetables, melons are considered fruits, sweet and juicy.

Melons rank somewhere between summer and winter squashes in terms of nutritiousness. They resemble summer squashes in their high water content and low calorie count, but approach winter squashes in their nutrient value. Melons are a good source of potassium and vitamin C, and, like pumpkin or butternut squash the orange fleshed varieties have exceptional amounts of beta carotene.

You can improve the eating quality of firm, uncut melons 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 time the fruit has not reached its peak, it was picked immature and will not be worth eating. Once ripened (or cut), melons should be refrigerated and used within about two days. Enclose them in plastic bags to protect other produce in the refrigerator from the ethylene gas that the melons give off. Ripe melons are also very fragrant, and the aroma of a cut melon can penetrate other foods.

An uncut watermelon can, if necessary, be stored at room temperature for up to a week, but in summer, when room temperatures can be quite high, the fruit should be refrigerated . It takes eight to 12 hours to chill a whole water melon thoroughly. Cut water melon should be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for no more than four days.

With the exception of watermelon, the preparation is the same for all melons. Simply cut the melon open and remove the seeds and strings. It can be served in many attractive ways: cut into halves, quarters, wedges or cubes; or the flesh can be scooped out with a melon baller. For the simplest, least messy way to eat it, halve the watermelon lengthwise and seed it, then cut it crosswise into wedges. Slide a knife between the rind and flesh to remove the rind; leave the wedges whole or cut each one into bite-sized pieces.

For melon rings, cut melons into thick crosswise slices, scrape out the seeds, and remove the rind, if desired.

Use a large, heavy knife to cut a whole watermelon into thick slices or wedges, or else remove the flesh with a melon baller. Seed melon chunks or balls with the tip of a knife.