For some of us, there are foods and beverages that are simply synonymous with summertime. And one that certainly ranks high with me is watermelon. I have cracked into more than my fair share, and a fresh, cold, delicious watermelon on a scorching day can make you feel like a million bucks. Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s definitely refreshing! And when I took a closer look I discovered some pretty interesting facts about this humble cousin of the cucumber.
First of all, the watermelon is old. And I mean ooold. It originated growing wild in the deserts of southern and western Africa (where it still grows), providing an excellent source of portable – and potable – water to tribes crossing the Kalahari Desert. The earliest recorded harvesting was by those hot shots of the ancient world, the Egyptians, who not only picked them, but revered them, placing them in royal tombs around 5,000 years ago. Through various trade routes it made its way around the Mediterranean and into Asia, finally arriving in European countries in the 13th century. It made its agricultural debut in the U.S. in the 1600s, where it was first grown in Massachusetts. That’s quite a journey. And its fame continues today; Fun Fact: watermelon was officially chosen as the State Vegetable (um, ok?) of Oklahoma in 2007. You get yours, Citrullus lanatus! That’s the fancy scientific name for watermelon, by the way.
This self-contained hydration station is commonly grown in raised beds – after being sown from seed – in rows approximately eight to twelve feet apart. Depending on the variety, of which there are about 300, the growing period from seed to harvest is about three months. Aside from the traditional red-fleshed melon, there are also orange and yellow types, both of which are much sweeter than their classic red cousin. But all three colors have one thing in common; they need honey bees to have a normal, healthy growing period. Apparently they are crucial in the pollination of the watermelon blossoms, bringing yet another reason for bee conservation to the forefront (#savethebees). And while we here in America love our watermelons, we’re only the sixth-highest producing country in the world. Who’s number one? Oh yeah, you guessed it: China. They grow a lot. Like, 70-million-tonnes-a-year a lot. Dang, China!
And these delicious orbs of goodness aren’t just key for getting hydrated; they are remarkably good for you in other ways. They are incredibly high in lycopene (a trait they share with another superstar food, tomatoes) and other antioxidants. One cup of watermelon can also provide you with 16% of you daily recommended serving of vitamin C – look out strawberries and oranges, there’s another horse in this race! And some studies have shown that particular elements in watermelon have great anti-inflammatory properties, and could support good cardiovascular health. One of the best feelings ever is finding something you love to eat, and then discovering that it’s actually good for you, too.
Now there are plenty of folks out there who have their own particular way of eating watermelon, and some of them – gasp! – dispose of the rind. Nay, nay I say! The rind, although a bit funky when eaten raw, can be used as you would some other vegetables, stir-fried or stewed even. And some, myself excluded, also enjoy pickled watermelon rind. There are devotees. Serious ones. Just ask them. And as to the piles and acres and miles of recipes for how to present and eat the flesh, well take your pick my friends. The internet, cookbooks, and magazines are awash with all the watermelon delights you could imagine and then some. I personally enjoy mine the old-fashioned way the best, just straight off the rind, nice and cold. But of course there are smoothies, cocktails, salads, chilled soups and desserts to keep in mind as well. The options are basically endless.
So I hope you enjoyed this brief look at one seriously tasty melon. If you want to read more about them or get some fun ideas for what to do with them, go here and check things out, it’s a great site. As it happens, watermelon is the only melon I enjoy; I could never seem to get into cantaloupe, honeydew or any of the others. For me, the simple, clean taste of watermelon is all I need for some quick summertime refreshment. What other foods do you enjoy most in the summer? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!