I’m crazy in love with this melon, which clearly belongs in the Prescott family of cantaloupes. Plants throw off an occasional Early Frame Prescott type (see page 40 of The Melon). Zatta is Italian for cantaloupe (plural zatte). This variety may tasteeven better than Prescott Fond Blanc (see page 41)—but must we quibble?When overripe it can be dry and cottony, I admit.
I am fascinated by the unusual fruit color change as Zatta matures. Unlike Prescott Fond Blanc, whose skin goes from whitish green to light yellow when ripe, Zatta turns from dark green to orange yellow or yellowish orange. Jacquin (1832) was right: The more green-black the cantaloupe’s skin in youth, the more intensely yellow orange it becomes at maturity.
Thomas Jefferson sowed and planted 18 hills of Zatte di Massa cantaloupe melons in 1774. Presumably he had a harvest, but melons didn’t fare well for him at Monticello. Peter Hatch, former Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, explains the underlying issues: “Whether because of the Virginia humidity, the heavy clay soil, or the skills of the gardener, fine and tasty melons are only occasionally harvested from the restored Monticello garden today.” Nonetheless, Monticello does produce and sell seed of this historic variety.
Zatta di Massa is named for a town in central Italy where these melons grew and matured near the sea. The variety is also known as Zatta Arancina (orange-colored Zatta) and Melone Cotogno (quince-tree melon). It was described in 1828 as the least warted, and the most yellow orange of the various Zatte by Moretti and Chiolini.
People love to call this cantaloupe ugly. As early as 1972, Glecklers Seedmen, of Metamora, Ohio, catalogued it as Mr. Ugly Muskmelon. In their words: “From Italy. One look at the fruit and all agree they are the most horrible looking, with their deep ribs, big warts and rough all over; look like the rough looking Japanese Squash. But the salmon-netted flesh is so sweet.” Italians call it ugly but good.