Friday, May 19, 2006

Apple #171: Watermelons

We've had a request. Actually, several requests from one reader:

Hows ‘bout one on Nintendo, or bottled water, or Emma Goldman, or computer fonts, or bed bugs, or watermelons.

These ideas all have the potential to generate interesting entries, but depending on the number of requests I get (and the response has been overwhelming -- that's sarcasm), I might not get to all of them. For some brief information about bed bugs, please see an early entry of mine on mattresses.

Since I just bought a watermelon at the store yesterday and ate some of it with dinner (it was delicious), I thought that watermelons might be an appropriate entry for today.

This is Professor Maynard, of the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center at the University of Florida, sitting atop a pile of watermelons. Notice the different varieties of melons in the pile.
(Photo from the GCREC, U FL)

  • Watermelons are 92% water. Because of their high water content, travelers and explorers way back when used to use the melons as a source of portable water.
  • Watermelons were probably first grown in Egypt nearly 5,000 years ago. Heiroglyphics depicting watermelons have been found in ancient Egyptian buildings. Watermelons have also been found among the things laid in pharaohs' burial chambers.

Watermelons for sale in Cairo, Egypt
(Photo from a blog about Cairo)

  • Over 1,200 varieties are now grown in 96 countries around the world.
  • China is the world's number one producer of watermelons.
  • In 2004, 205 billion pounds of watermelons were grown worldwide.
  • In the US, Florida, California, Texas, and Georgia grow the most watermelons, in that order.
  • Watermelons are a member of the gourd family, with cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.
  • They are grown on vines, in rows, about 8 to 12 feet apart. Within 60 days of sun & water, the vine will produce its first melon, which will then be ready to harvest 30 days later.
  • While the rind seems to be hardy because of its thickness, it can be damaged quite easily. Therefore, watermelons are picked by hand.

The Brights with their 2005 world's record biggest watermelon
(Photo from Giant Watermelons)
  • In 2001, growers in Japan were able to raise square watermelons. They did this by putting the young fruit in square glass cases so that as they grew, they would fill in that shape. The goal was to make watermelons fit more easily into refrigerators. These watermelons were sold at 10,000 yen per melon, or about $82.
  • In the US, growers are beginning to pick watermelons when they're smaller, also so they'll fit into refrigerators more easily.
  • Watermelons are a good source of vitamins A, C, and B6.
  • You can puree watermelon, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze it to make melon ice cubes.
  • If you want to pickle watermelon rind -- yes, lots of people do this -- you need the usual sort of brine that combines water, salt, sugar, and vinegar, plus flavorings like cloves and cinnamon. Then you pretty much boil this mixture and let it stand, then boil it again and let it stand, then again for a total of three days. For more details, see Mary Fear's recipe.

This is what pickled watermelon rind looks like once you've got it in a jar
(Photo from Cane & Reed, of Jake & Amos' pint of watermelon rind)

  • To make watermelon soup, blend the melon with lemon juice, spearmint leaves, sugar, and white wine. Then add slices of ginger and chill. This sounds to me more like a wine spritzer than soup.
  • If you love watermelons and want to share that watermelon love with others, you could attend any of the several watermelon festivals that happen around the country in the summertime. There are four coming up, from now through mid-June, in cities throughout Florida.
  • By the way, that story about vampire watermelons (people believed that watermelons, if left outside, could become vampires) is a joke, originally made by science fiction writer Terry Pratchett, but perpetuated in a bogus entry in Wikipedia.

National Watermelon Promotion Board, Fun Facts / FAQs
The Virtual Vine, Watermelons
The Quality of Information, "Racism, Wikipedia, and Vampire Watermelons," November 17, 2004
Wikipedia, Vampire Watermelons
Health, Watermelon Nutrition Facts
Thom Patterson, "Japan corners the market on square fruit,", June 15, 2001

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