Watermelon to me brings back memories of my childhood which, of course, was a very long time ago. Years ago we used to peddle door to door - the time when the supermarkets came to you.
Now in those days we used to have what we called straight loads, which most of the time were watermelons. Watermelons sold then mostly whole, never cut, except if you plugged it. Plugging is when you make a triangle cut into the watermelon, then you pull out the triangle cut to see if the watermelon is ripe.
Red, juicy, with a thin rind is what you're looking for. Back then, everybody bought whole melons because they had big families.
As the seedless variety began to get more popular, the cutting of watermelon also became the thing to do. Now watermelons are mostly sold by the piece. Summertime or year-round - there is nothing better than a good ripe watermelon.
It didn't happen overnight or over the span of a few growing seasons. It took years and years to get rid of those seeds. Yet the result is somewhat truly amazing to behold, and even more amazing to taste. The seedless watermelon is sweeter and crunchier, with a nice thin rind.
You ought to see all the ways people try to test whether watermelon is ripe. They thump them. They twist the stem to see if it will twist back. I've seen people balance straw on a melon to see if the straw will rotate. People have even brought buckets of water into the store to see if a melon will float. Everybody has some magical way to see if a watermelon is ripe, but there's one simple, sure way to tell. Look at the stem end: if the stem is shrunken and shriveled, the melon is ripe.
African in origin, watermelons are actually edible gourds in the same family as cucumbers and squash. The top three producers in the United States are Florida, Texas, and California, with Florida providing up to 90 percent of those we get on the East Coast.
There are many varieties, many different shapes and sizes - a few with yellow flesh, most of them with red. Some people avoid watermelons because they're so big but a lot of small varieties have been developed that are terrific, and most markets sell large melons cut into halves or quarters. The average weight of a watermelon is five to thirty pounds, with some varieties as small as two pounds.
Seventy-five percent of the crop is produced in June, July, and August, but watermelons are available year round - imported from Mexico and Central America in the hard winter months, although in December and January they're very expensive and in limited supply. As with most fruits, you should buy watermelons when the domestic crop is in season.
Although a seedless watermelon will ripen after it's picked, if you want it ripe when you buy it, look for a stem that's shrunken and discolored. If the stem is missing, the watermelon is too ripe; it will be mealy and dark and not taste fresh. If the stem is green - the watermelon is too green and not ripe. The skin should be dull, not shiny. Slap the melon and listen for a hollow thump. A yellow belly or the underside of the watermelon usually indicates the fruit is ripe.
Cut melons are usually more expensive per pound than those bought whole, but they may be a better buy because you see exactly what you're getting. The blossom end of the watermelon is usually the ripest and therefore the sweetest part. If you're buying a cut melon, look for the blossom end. Make sure the flesh is dark red and firm.
Store a whole seedless watermelon in a cool place, not in direct sunlight. Don't refrigerate it unless it's cut or you want to chill it a few hours before serving.
Slice and serve or combine chunks or balls with other fruits for fruit salad; serve in the watermelon shell. Puree seedless watermelon for a delicious drink or freeze the puree to make ice pops or sorbet.
Did you know?
Soon to be published research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that watermelon are as much as 60% higher in lycopenes than tomatoes.
Lycopene is a pigment that gives the bright red color to tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit and guava. Recent studies show the intake of lycopene is associated with reductions in several forms of cancer, including prostate, breast, lung and cancer of the uterus. The anti-cancer properties of lycopene appear to be due to its effectiveness as an antioxidant.
Warm days and cool nights in the watermelon growing areas help increase lycopene content. The riper or redder the melon the more lycopene. In addition to lycopene, watermelons also contain other properties beneficial to the body, including citrulline, an amino acid compound, which helps flush out the kidneys.
For more information on watermelon and pumpkin carving, email Hugh McMahon at FMCmahon@voyagernet.
Other recipes from Produce Pete.