BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: It’s Watermelon Season!
There’s nothing like a thick, juicy slice of sweet watermelon on a hot summer day. With more than 1,200 varieties of watermelons grown around the world, watermelons are available year-round, with peak season in the United States from May to August.
They’re full of healthy antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, and lycopene. Plus, they’re an amazing 92 percent water, so a drink of watermelon is a great way to hydrate on a sweltering day. Whether you’re choosing one from the grocery store, farmers’ market, or Rocky Ford, you need to know what to look for to pick the best watermelon.
According to Jordan Carter, the past president of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, following these tips will help you pick a “good one”:
Look, lift, and turn the melon so you can examine all sides, says Carter. Avoid any watermelons that have cuts, dents, soft spots or bruises. Most importantly, look for the ground spot, the area where it sat on the ground as it ripened.
“You want it to be a creamy or buttery yellow color,” says Carter. “If it’s white or green, it was harvested too soon — before it was ripe — and may not taste sweet.”
It’s fine to let your watermelon sit on the counter. It will last a few weeks in your kitchen at room temperature. When you’re ready to cut into it, first remember to wash it! Rinse with cool water, scrub it with a produce brush, and dry it off with a paper towel before slicing. This is an important step that a lot of people skip, but watermelon grows on the soil and you don’t want to drag any microbes through the skin into the flesh with your knife. Once cut, watermelon lasts about three days in the fridge before quality deteriorates.
How can you tell if a watermelon is sweet? Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a watermelon is sweet before buying it. But choosing one with the yellow ground spot helps because you know it was harvested when the melon was ripe.
Also, the sugar content can vary depending on the variety grown and weather conditions that year. For example, in extremely rainy years, the watermelon may absorb too much rain and taste bland. Don’t give up because the next one may be sweet and delicious.
Seeded or seedless? It’s really a matter of personal preference. Some people love the nostalgia of the seeded varieties, but many others prefer no seeds. Ditto with round versus oval or solid-colored versus striped watermelons; they’re different varieties, but there’s no advantage to choosing one type over the other. Trying different varieties is fun and you may find a favorite that you prefer over the others.
According to the University of Arkansas, watermelon is the only fruit that contains higher concentrations of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight heart disease and several types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.
Sadly, most watermelon varieties take from 80 to 90 days to mature. They require a long, warm growing season and are most productive at elevations below 5,000 feet; that’s why our brothers and sisters who live in Pueblo have much better luck. In our diocese, with its “hot one-day then snow the next day” weather, we have less success.
However, there is hope! The University of Illinois recommends these early varieties that mature in 70-75 days to harvest. These melons are 6-10 pounds in size: Golden Crown (red flesh, green skin; skin turns yellow when ripe); Sugar Baby (red flesh); Yellow Baby (hybrid-yellow flesh); and Yellow Doll (hybrid-yellow flesh). Maybe next year we can add watermelon seeds to our springtime to-do list.
Why did the Catholic watermelons ask permission to get married? Because they cantaloupe.