Those who come from hot-weather summer climates have memories of the sweet, succulent melon, sold at fruit stands and off the back of pickup trucks. Frequently, the melons were floating in a tub of ice, and the vendor would “plug” the melon by cutting a large, spear-shaped chunk out of heart of the melon for tasting prior to purchase.
In his novel, “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” Mark Twain said that eating a watermelon “is to know what the angels eat.” Artists have been depicting watermelons in their paintings since the 1300s and seeds have been found in 3,000-year-old Egyptian tombs.
Since watermelons require hot, dry weather and alkaline, sandy loam to develop their sweet, crisp fruit, they aren’t grown much in Western Washington. But east of the mountains, farmers are able to grow them with great success.
In recent years, many new varieties have been developed, including the “ice-box” melon, the little individual or four-serving-size fruits. Smaller fruits ripen more quickly and are less susceptible to fungal diseases, making them more desirable for home gardens. WSU and the University of Oregon have been doing quite a lot of research on new types, including the yellow fleshed and seedless varieties.
Grocery stores and produce markets generally bring melons in from warmer growing areas in huge field boxes. Selecting a melon from a box full of dozens can be a daunting task, but there are a few tricks to insure a sweet, crisp juicy melon every time.
First, roll the melon over and check its skin. There should be a pronounced, slightly flattened, yellow, oval spot on one side. This is the side that laid flat on the ground as the melon ripened. Incorrectly referred to as a “sun-spot,” in fact, it is the spot that was shielded from the sun.
Next, check the stem end of the melon. If there is a cut stem hanging onto it, the melon was cut way too early. If the spot where the stem was connected to the melon is slightly concave or healed over, that indicates the fruit was ripe when it was picked.
And finally, give your melon a good knock with a knuckle. A firm, ripe fruit will knock back. A dull thud will indicate an overripe or pithy fruit, while a little bit of a knock will indicate the melon is not quite ripe.
A little practice of these steps, in the order given, will produce a successful melon.
Proper storage at home is important. Refrigeration is not necessary if there is cool, fairly dark place to store the melon until ready to cut. Once cut, it is best eaten within three days, and kept in the refrigerator.
Melons can be stored uncut for several weeks at 65 degrees or below. Warm, humid sunlight will cause a melon to deteriorate rapidly.
Cutting into a melon with a large, sharp knife should result in a loud crack. Of course, the easiest way to serve it, is simply cut into wedges with a salt shaker nearby, for those who enjoy a sprinkle that enhances the sweetness.
Recipes for serving watermelon range from skewered chunks to smoothies, sorbets and cocktails. Rinds can be pickled but otherwise, due to the high-water content, watermelon does not lend itself to other cooking or baking methods.
Recently, a popular party presentation has been to scoop out the insides of the melon, fill it with a beverage concoction and install a pouring spigot on the bottom. Also, carving the melon into a basket shape lends itself to an attractive serving vessel for fruit salad on a buffet table.
Watermelon pairs well with mild cheese such as feta and herbs such as basil and thyme.
- 4-6 cups watermelon cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 cup feta cheese in 1/2-inch cubes
- 6-8 basil leaves cut into thin ribbons
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt and pepper
Place watermelon in large, flat bowl. Sprinkle with feta chunks and lime juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
Toss together, and sprinkle basil ribbons over all. Chill until ready to serve.
May be prepared 2-4 hours before serving.
- 4 cups watermelon flesh
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 lime slices
- 4 sprigs mint
Place watermelon, water and sugar in blender. Blend until sugar is dissolved and mixture is liquid.
Pour over ice in 12-ounce glass. Garnish with lime and mint.
Sit in the shade and enjoy!