Watermelon! Nothing says summer like it. Sweet, refreshing, delicious and healthy, watermelon always seems to make people smile.
By Wendy Priesnitz
In China and Japan, watermelon is a popular gift to bring to a host. The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife. From Egypt, watermelons spread throughout countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships, and found its way to China, which is now the world’s number one producer of watermelons. The United States currently ranks fourth in worldwide production of watermelon, out of 96 countries that grow this popular fruit. It has become a staple in households the world over.
A one-cup (250 ml) serving of watermelon has just 51 calories and provides a quarter of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C. It is also rich in Vitamins A, Thiamin and B-6, as well as a good source of magnesium and potassium. Watermelon also contains high levels of lycopene, higher, in fact, than tomatoes. A number of studies have drawn a correlation between lycopene – which is part of a class of antioxidant plant compounds called carotenoids – and the possible prevention of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Watermelons are easy to grow in the home garden, given enough space. In fact, they’re known to sprout up from discarded seed. They also need warm soil to germinate, a long growing season (100 to 150 days) and loamy soil.
There’s a bit of an art to knowing when a watermelon is ripe to pick or, for that matter, to purchase or use. Your melon is generally ready to harvest when the tendril nearest that fruit is dried up and brown in color. Some people swear by the thumping method, but each type of melon will have its own distinctive sound. In the store, choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents. Lift it up – it should be heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92 percent water, which accounts for most of its weight. On the underside of the watermelon there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
Store them on the warm side. Compared to most fruits, they need a more “tropical” climate – a thermometer reading of 55° F (13 C) is ideal. However, whole melons will keep for seven to ten days at room temperature. Store them too long, and they’ll lose flavor and texture. Freezing causes the rind to break down and produces a mealy, mushy texture.
Aside from just eatin’ and spittin’, watermelons are increasingly being used in gourmet recipes. Try it cubed, scooped, grilled (just 10 to 20 seconds), pureed, carved and juiced.
Removing the seeds is easy. Wash and quarter a whole melon, then cut each quarter into three or four wedges. Cut lengthwise along the seed line with a paring knife, and lift off piece. Using a fork, scrape seeds both from the removed piece and the remaining flesh on the rind. Use for cubes or continue with the recipe.
6 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1 ½ cups chopped Golden Delicious apples
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Surprise your family or guests with this spicy, not sweet, soup! A garnish of thin apple slices adds a special touch. In blender, puree watermelon; pour into large mixing bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour to blend flavors. Makes 4 servings.
Watermelon Salmon Skewers
1-pound boneless skinless salmon fillet, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
16 wooden skewers (soaked in water)
1-inch piece fresh ginger root
½ cup mirin (available in Asian section of grocery stores)
¼ cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
¼ cup tamari (soy sauce)
¼ cup watermelon juice (seeds removed)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 cups diced watermelon
Peel and chop ginger root. In a blender combine ginger root with remaining marinade ingredients and blend until smooth. Thread salmon onto skewers. Marinate fish for 2 hours to two days in refrigerator. Transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle salmon with sesame seeds. Preheat oven to 350º F. Bake until salmon is just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. You can also grill these. Serve on plate with diced melon.
Recipes by: Jon “The Mad Chef” Ashton for the National Watermelon Promotion Board.