For centuries, Italians have eaten fresh melons paired with prosciutto or another cured, salty meat. Though the combination is delicious, this was not a culinary tradition so much as a dietary precaution with a very long history.
In the hot summer of 1471, Pope Paul II dined on a refreshing meal of sliced cantaloupes, and he promptly dropped dead. Though the Pontiff likely perished of a massive coronary, congestione was blamed—stomach distress.
The news caused panic, but fortunately for melon farmers (and ultimately for us) Medieval medicine discovered a culinary "cure," and the Italian diet was changed forever.
To this day, folklore has it that if a cold food like melon is not balanced by a hot food like a spicy meat, the results could be deadly. The body might become chilled and one might risk a bout of indigestion, or even the dreaded congestione!
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We didn't have pork belly (i.e., uncured bacon) on hand, but we had cured bacon (close enough), so we sliced up some sizzling strips into bite-sized pieces and affixed them with toothpicks to juicy chunks of watermelon.
The salty, crisp bacon and sweet, juicy melon are a combination to die for. And if you're a superstitious Italian, they may just prevent that untimely end!