Dietribes: Watermelon

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With spring now here and summer just around the corner, let's talk about a favorite warm-weather food. Ladies and gentlemen, coming in at 92% water, the watermelon! Mark Twain wrote in Puddin'head Wilson that "The true southern watermelon is a boon apart and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat." Couldn't have said it better myself. Now let's get to some facts.

"¢ According to the Cambridge History of Food, "Archaeological data suggest [watermelons] were first cultivated in ancient Egypt more than 5,000 years ago, where representations of watermelons appeared on wall paintings and watermelon seeds and leaves were deposited in Egyptian tombs [...] Their first recorded appearance in Great Britain dates to 1597," after which they made their way to the Americas where they have enjoyed a rich cultural history. Today, China is the largest producer of watermelons.

"¢ Examples of watermelon fans in the early United States include Thomas Jefferson, who was an enthusiastic grower of watermelons at his Monticello estate, and Henry David Thoreau. As written in a collection of Thoreau manuscripts that was published in 1999: "I have no respect for those who cannot raise melons or who avoid them as unwholesome." / "When I go a-berrying in my boat or carriage, I frequently carry watermelons for drink. It is the most agreeable and refreshing wine in a convenient cask, and most easily kept cool."

"¢ Watermelons come in many shapes and sizes. In 1954, C. Fredric Andrus developed a breed of watermelon called the Charleston Gray, revolutionary because of its oval (as opposed to round) "“ and therefore stackable "“ shape, as well as its resistance to disease. Even more stackable: the square watermelon...

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"¢ The largest watermelon on record belongs to Bill Carson of Arrington, TN, who in 1990 grew one that weighed in at 262 pounds. He may have been outdone for largest watermelon though by this water tower in Luling, Texas.

"¢ The science behind thumping a watermelon. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have been known to pick a good one or two based on a hardy knock. I also love seeing men and women at the grocery store wrestle down melons on the floor, listening intently for just the right note.

"¢ One of my high school teachers used to say, "if it's wet and not yours, don't touch it." But what if it's watermelon snow? This phenomena occurs only in very specific conditions, but causes impacted snow to take on a pink color and, in an even more impressive manner, the smell of a watermelon. Don't get too excited, though. Turns out it's just algae.

"¢ I'm pretty lazy, so I very much enjoy seedless watermelons. If you've ever wondered how they came about, this description should set you straight: "The seedless condition is actually sterility resulting from a cross between two plants of incompatible chromosome complements. The normal chromosome number in most living organisms is referred to as 2n. Seedless watermelons are produced on highly sterile triploid (3n) plants, which result from crossing a normal diploid (2n) plant with a tetraploid (4n)." Mmm, does that make you hungry?

Anyone have any good memories that include watermelon? And does anyone know why artificial watermelon flavor tastes nothing like a real watermelon (but is, I must admit, still delicious)?

[Previous Dietribes: Strawberries, Macaroni & Cheese, McIntosh Apples, Smoothies, Coffee, The Sweet Potato, Eggs and Cookies]

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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March 26, 2008 - 3:27am
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