In the 19th century, a few farming families in Montreal grew a delicious variety of cantaloupe called the Montreal melon. This melon grew quickly to 15-20 pounds, and had a delicious green flesh that became a “snob food” around the turn of the 20th century, on par with caviar and champagne.
As word of the Montreal melon spread, demand grew. By the early 1900s, local farmers were sending regular shipments by train to New England and New York, where upscale restaurants and hotels put them on dessert menus and sold them for up to a dollar a slice — the equivalent of about $24 today. Because the melons were so large and thin-skinned, the flesh bruised easily. A woven-basket industry sprang up to protect them during transport, and they were packed in short, fine-stemmed hay.
The city took pride in its namesake fruit, and Lazar says that one was sent every year as a gift to the British throne. The Canadian Pacific Railway offered the melon in its formal dining cars, instructing staff to serve it “on cracked ice in a bread tray,” accompanied by a finger bowl.
Montreal’s famous crop was so profitable that at least one farmer hired an armed guard to protect his fields at night. By 1907 the melons could earn the farmers a couple thousand dollars per acre each season, around $49,000 in today’s dollars. In a 1908 report, the USDA took note of the “melon of unusual excellence,” its “fancy prices,” and the fact that “even at such prices, the Canadian growers are not able to supply the American demand.”
Sadly, the Montreal melon was a victim of the shift to industrial farming in the mid-20th century. The care it required just wasn’t scalable. But organic farmer Ken Taylor is trying to bring the melon back from the brink of extinction. Read about the fussy Montreal melon and its potential future at Buzzfeed.