Saturday, July 28th, 2012...10:00 am

The Wonderful Watermelon

Watermelon by EssjayNZ

I think a good watermelon has got to be among the best fruits on earth. First there is that wonderful red color when the watermelon is cut. (Now there are yellow fleshed ones which I just tasted for the first time this summer at the Highlawn Pavillion Restaurant– it was delicious and so was all the food I ate there. ) Then the fragrance that emanates from the cut watermelon makes me recall the wonderful smell of swimming and summer when I was a child. And finally there is that sweet, but not too sweet taste of the watermelon- something so right, refreshing and delicious. Some fruits are too sweet for my taste, but not the watermelon.  I love watermelon. I remember being shocked when my father-in -law told me that watermelons were fed to the pigs, where he grew up in Poland.

para los panas – for the friends by ruurmo

The seedless varieties are nice, but I never minded having seeds. They were not difficult to remove and one could have fun, the old fashioned way, by having a seed spitting contest- to see who could spit the seed the farthest. I guess this younger generation is too fastidious these days to play that kind of fun game which used to keep us old timers happily laughing for hours.

One summer when we raised watermelons, the heavenly powers that be were in the right juxtaposition, a lot of sun, which watermelons need and not too much rain, because they like it dry. They are native to the Kalahari Dessert in South Africa, so that gives you some idea of what conditions they need to thrive.  From looking at the plants in the field where my mother had planted them, you would have imagined that there would be no watermelons, because the leaves were so dry they looked like they were dying. But there were so many watermelons that summer. That was the only time I remember that happening, having literally tons of watermelon to harvest.

Watermelon Move-In by Writing On The Mall

These watermelons were delicious. So when family and friends came to visit, they went home with watermelons, lots of them. One Sunday my father’s family came to visit from the big city, Philadelphia.  In those days, few people drove and fewer people owned cars. So when my uncle who owned a car came to visit, he stuffed as many relatives into the car that would fit. In those days cars sat three people in the front seat and at least three people in the back seat. Since there were no seat belts, cousins sat on adults’ laps.  This way eight or nine people could visit at one time. The weekend the watermelons ripened, the family arrived. When they tasted the watermelons they wanted to take some back with them. Dad said they could have as many as they wanted. So they filled the trunk with watermelons and squeezed watermelons in any place they could find in the car.  We wondered how they could sit or see around those watermelons. We had to close the doors after the car was filled with people and melons.  It was always the family tradition that when they returned home, one person would call to let us know they arrived safely. This day, no one called. We waited and waited and worried.  Night came. Why didn’t they call. Finally the phone rang. The reason they called so late was because the car had been so overstuffed with people and watermelons that the tires couldn’t hold all that weight and finally blew- right on the bridge that crossed the Delaware River.  I never knew how they even got out of the cars without having watermelons roll all over the place.

We couldn’t eat enough watermelons and we couldn’t give enough away. So what do you do with all those extra watermelons even after feeding all the animals one owned? That summer we were allowed to have watermelon fights. We would drop the watermelon on the ground where it would crack open. We would scoop out the red flesh and throw handfuls at each other. No one won and no one lost. We all just laughed.

But as good as a ripe watermelon is, an unripe one can be awful. How many times have we been stuck with a dud.  It is not easy, nor is there an accurate way of checking to see if a watermelon is ripe unless the watermelon is cut open.  When I was a child, when you bought a watermelon from a farmer or farm stand, he used to cut a plug out of the watermelon. This triangular plug went deep enough into the center to show you how red the watermelon was inside. Of course, you never know the taste of a watermelon unless you eat it.  But even samples of watermelon won’t assure you that the watermelon you actually buy will be sweet and red through and through.

So how can one know when buying a watermelon that you are getting a good sweet watermelon when you buy them? After all these thousands of years of growing watermelons, one would think experts should know how to choose a good watermelon. People say it should be heavy for its size and that when you thump on it you will hear a hollow sound or if you slap it with your open hand you will hear a “deep pitched tone.”   I can never hear those sounds as much as I thump.  And I assume that if the watermelons all came from the same harvest they will have the same thump or slap sound.  I have learned that if you are strong enough to be able to squeeze a watermelon, you can sometimes hear it crack on the inside. This indicates ripeness or maybe over-ripeness. I also look at the bottom of the watermelon for that cream color on the underbelly. The riper ones have the largest creamiest yellow underbellies. I also look at the stem end or piggy tail of the watermelon. When a watermelon ripens on the field that stem end either turns brown or falls off. Unfortunately most watermelons are not picked at their prime, so most are sold with a green stem end. I doubt that anyone really knows how to find a really good watermelon- it is the luck of the draw.

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