Last year I didn’t get my usual annual amount of watermelon consumed. With the pandemic and other issues, I think I was distracted. So, I plan to remedy that this summer. July and August are prime months for finding watermelons in the market. We have already had two, but they were not up to par for me in taste and quality. I guess I didn’t thump them correctly.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture gives advice about how to get a good watermelon when shopping. “Choose a watermelon symmetrical in shape without dents, bruises and cuts. Thump, if you must (listen for dull hollow sound). Turn watermelon over. The underside should be creamy yellow with a healthy sheen to the rind. Store cut watermelons in refrigerator. Cover cut surface loosely with plastic wrap. Uncut watermelons keep at room temperature for up to two weeks.”
Working in our tobacco fields as a teenager, a cold home-grown watermelon was always a wonderful treat in the hot summer afternoons as a “work break.” First thing in the morning when we went to the field, one of us would go to the nearby watermelon patch and select the “best” melon we could find and go put it in the deepest part of the creek and let cold water run over it until midafternoon. We would then rescue it from the creek and take it to a shady spot in the woods and cut it up for our break. It quenched out thirst, and the sweet juice ran down our chins.
A native of Africa and a relative of cucumber, squash and pumpkin, watermelons are not only delicious and thirst-quenching, but they are also nutritious. Some folks say you should squeeze one into your medicine cabinet. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, two cups of watermelon have 80 calories, no fat, vitamins A (8%), B6 (6%) and C (25%), potassium (6%), magnesium (6%), thiamin (8%), phosphorus (2%) and a heavy dose of lycopene carotenoid, all of which are vital to our health.
The United States currently ranks seventh in worldwide production of watermelon, with Florida, Georgia, Texas and California leading domestic production. Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are also large producers. North Carolina is seventh in the U.S. in watermelon production, with about 10,000 acres grown valued at over $10.6 million each year.
As with tomatoes, there can be a big debate among consumers and gardeners as to whether a watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable, but the answer is it can be both. Botanically speaking, it is a fruit of a plant, but according to how you use it and according to Webster’s dictionary, a vegetable is anything that can be obtained from a plant. An underground example would be potatoes, which are actually root tubers but are considered vegetables.
In recent years, marketed melons have become smaller in size on purpose. New “personal”-sized melons serving about two people have been developed so there is less waste in a two-person household, which is becoming the norm. Most weigh about 2 pounds and fit conveniently in the fridge. Regular-sized watermelons range from about 10 to 20 pounds.
In addition to being eaten fresh by itself or in salads, watermelon recipes such as pickles, gazpacho, bruschetta, tzatziki, stir fry and kimchi can be found at the website watermelon.org, which is the watermelon marketing group for the industry.
For good fresh watermelons and a great selection, go to the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market in Colfax just off Interstate 40 north of High Point. The shopping season is off to a good start, and you should find plenty of North Carolina watermelons there and at grocery stores to thump. If you want to visit a roadside market or a watermelon-growing farm, go to the web at NCfreshlink.com.