Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer = Watermelon

I took Big One to the dentist last week, and he spotted some guys selling watermelons from the back of a pick-up truck on the side of the road. By the time we left the dentist’s office, he had talked me into stopping to pick one up on the way home. It really didn’t take much convincing. I love a good watermelon. Plus, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to set a good example for my kids to take advantage of fine summer produce and support local growers.

These were Cave City watermelons. I’ve never heard of Cave City, but I was willing to branch out. (And the dental hygienist said their watermelons are supposed to be the best.)

Mercy! I cannot overstate the perfection of this watermelon. Everyone in my house is sick of hearing me say it, but that is the best watermelon I have ever put in my mouth. Seriously. Every bite is a full sensory experience.

If you live in Arkansas, do not pass up an opportunity to have some Cave City watermelon. I’m even thinking about going to the Cave City Watermelon Festival in a couple of weeks. They give out free watermelon! 

The thing about watermelons, though, is that a lot of them are not so perfect. And that is SO disappointing. I’m pretty big on good quality produce, so I’ve learned a lot over the years about picking the best fruits and vegetables. (Big One tells people that his mom’s a good “fruit picker.”)

Here’s what I know about getting a good watermelon:

1. Buy local. I would rather not have watermelon at all if I can’t get it from a local grower. I’ve been let down too many times by the stuff at the grocery store. There’s one vendor at our farmer’s market
who sells the best watermelons in town (not as good as that Cave City watermelon but still awfully good), and that’s pretty much the only place I’ll buy one. Except the side of the road. I know, I’m spoiled—I live in a part of the country with excellent growing conditions and a great farmer’s market. But if you’re not so lucky, follow the rest of the tips and you’ll still probably come out with a pretty good melon.

2. Look for the yellow spot. If you look at my picture, you’ll see where the rind is yellow on the underside. This is called the sugaring spot (I think I learned this from the Martha Stewart Show), and it’s how you know the watermelon has ripened and sweetened. When you’re trying to find a good watermelon, always check for a big yellow area (not white or light green). Make sure that the spot isn’t soft or mushy. That would be a bad thing. Watermelons should be firm.

3. Thump it. If you’re buying a whole watermelon, give it a good thump. If it’s nice and juicy, it should sound hollow. If you’re not sure what to listen for, just start thumping a bunch of them and you’ll start to hear the difference.

4. Compare the weight. After you find a few watermelons that pass the previous three tests, pick them up. You want the heaviest one for its size.

Most of the time I buy a half or quarter of a watermelon, partly because it’s just too hard to fit a whole one in my refrigerator, but also because it makes it easier to pick a good one. 
If you buy one that’s already cut open, follow the first four steps and then also:

1. Look for good color. Deep reddish pink color tells you the melon is plenty ripe and probably flavorful. The color tends to fade from the center out toward the edges. The less it fades, the more flavor you’ll get.

2. Smell it. Since it’s cut open, the aroma will be released. My number one rule for buying fruit: “smell = flavor.”

3. Check the texture. This one’s a little tricky but very important. Nothing will ruin a good watermelon like a mushy or mealy texture. If you take a close look at the surface, toward the center, you can usually see if it looks grainy. That’s a pretty good sign of a mealy melon. You can also lightly press on the surface. It should be firm but tender (as opposed to soft or squishy).

There’s still plenty of time to bask in the glory of summer fruit. Go on out and get you a watermelon. In fact, peaches are coming in too. But that’s a whole other story…

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