Tomorrow, Sunday, August 3, is National Watermelon Day. Not sure who comes up with this stuff but if we can have a National Underwear Day (Aug. 5) and a National Chop Suey Day (Aug. 29) then why not a day to celebrate America’s favorite melon. I considered all the different kinds of recipes I could make with watermelon and came up with exactly zero. Truth is, we are watermelon purists at my house and just eat it straight. So the best thing I can tell you to do with watermelons is to pick a good one. Here’s how…
Unlike cantaloupes and honeydews, watermelons don’t continue to ripen once they’re cut off the vine. If it’s not perfectly ripe when you buy it, it never will be, so the pressure to pick a good one is high.
I find it amusing when I walk by someone at the grocery store knocking on watermelons like some little mythical creature is gonna open an invisible door and tell them it’s ripe. I’ve done it, but it feels incredibly silly and they usually all sound the same to me anyway. If you want to use this method, you are looking for the watermelon to sound hollow as opposed to a dull thud, whatever that means. If you can beat on a bunch of melons and find the most hollow sounding one then you’re a better produce inspector than I. It’s on my list of things to check, but it’s at the bottom.
Another thing you want to look for in a watermelon is that it’s a uniform oval shape (meaning it got enough sun and water) and that it’s heavy for it’s size. This last factor isn’t easy to measure since it entails hoisting several watermelons but the good news is you can count it as part of your daily workout. Or, if you’re like me, your entire workout. A watermelon that seems heavier than its neighbors has lots of water in it, and that means juicier, sweeter flesh. This is pretty much the rule for all fruit–heavy equals juicy. Because, really, who wants to eat dry fruit? Yuck!
The final, and most important thing to look for on a watermelon is the field spot. That’s the big light colored area on one side of the melon where it laid on the ground. If it has a very small spot or no spot, walk away. The watermelon develops this light spot as it ripens so if the field spot isn’t decently large it means the watermelon was picked way too soon.
The longer a watermelon stays on the vine the sweeter it will be. The field mark gives you important information not just by it’s presence but by it’s color since it gets darker the longer the melon stays on the vine. If the field spot is white it was approaching ripe. If it’s light yellow, it’s just barely ripe and if it’s dark yellow, it’s perfectly ripe. Find the watermelon with the darkest yellow spot and if you can find one approaching orange you win the jackpot. The prize is a fabulous watermelon!
The picture is to show you what I’m talking about but the “best” one on the right is still not a dark enough yellow to be perfect. It was the best one at my grocery store so I went with it. Just remember that you’re on a mission to find a watermelon with the darkest yellow, approaching orange, field spot possible. At the beginning of August we’re just starting watermelon season here which might explain the disappointing selection at my grocery store and ultimately leads to trick #1.
How To Pick A Perfect Watermelon
(going from most important to least important)
1. Buy in season and preferably from your local Farmer’s Market. Or better yet, grow your own. For most of the country, watermelon season starts in late July but August is the peak. If you insist on buying watermelons in January, you’re on your own!
2. Pick a watermelon with a large field spot on one side. You will easily find ones with white spots but you want one with the darkest yellow spot you can get your hands on. Approaching orange is ideal.
3. A watermelon should be heavy for it’s size. Compare it by lifting several other melons of the same size. Count it as your daily workout.
4. Pick a watermelon that has a uniform oval shape, indicating it got adequate sun and water.
5. Knock on the outside of the watermelon listening for a hollow sound, not a thud. Once you give up on the pointless knocking, look at the skin. It should be dull, not shiny. A shiny watermelon is under-ripe.
For those of you who have chickens make sure you throw them the rinds. Humans aren’t the only creatures who love a good watermelon.
P.S. If you don’t own chickens but are thinking about it read this.