New Ways to Enjoy the Great American Watermelon
A Juicy Classic
On average, every American eats 15 pounds of watermelon every year. Since a typical watermelon yields 14 pounds of edible fruit, that’s over one entire watermelon’s worth of squishy sweetness per person per annum — and if the popularity of Independence Day watermelon-eating contests is any indication, most of that might be consumed in July.
Why does watermelon appeal to so many people? Its naturally chilly, sweet taste make it a great cooling-down alternative to sugary soda. Plus, let’s be honest: Spitting the seeds is just plain old fun.
As completely as the United States has absorbed it into its culture, watermelon is far from a uniquely American fruit. It is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert in the southern part of Africa.
The earliest recorded watermelon crop was harvested in Egypt in approximately 3000 B.C., according to hieroglyphic records on the walls of ancient structures. Egyptians sometimes buried their pharaohs with a watermelon to nourish them in the afterlife.
While most Americans associate watermelon with Independence Day, people in Iran, Afghanistan and other countries in Central Asia make a point to eat it on Yalda, a festival marking the longest night of the year that goes back to the Persian empire. According to tradit
ion, if you eat watermelon on Yalda, you will never be thirsty during the coming summer — an important stipulation for people in one of the driest areas of the world.
Today, the United States ranks fifth in global watermelon production, with Florida as the most watermelon-productive state. In the late 1800s, our neighboring county to the east, Jefferson County, grew watermelons for seeds and was the world’s top seed supplier. While there are only a few growers left, for more than 65 years they have celebrated the area’s agricultural history with the Jefferson County Watermelon Festival (see information box).
Stephanie Barlow of the National Watermelon Promotion Board credits Florida’s high melon output to its abundant sunshine.
“Water is not an issue for us as it is in other parts of the country,” said Barlow, whose office is based in Winter Springs, “and we also get two harvests, because of the warm weather.”
While most watermelon-growing states can only harvest in May or June, our famous Florida heat allows us to harvest not only in the typical peak season but also from October through December.
Experimentation with watermelon flavor is nothing new: The first cookbook published in the United States included a recipe for watermelon rind pickles — and that was in 1776. However, as time has gone on, culinary technique has gotten more and more creative. Some chefs are pairing watermelon with hot spices like chipotle, cayenne or rooster sauce, or with meats like pork or quail.
There are some delicious watermelon-flavored liquors on the market as well. Two of the best available are Three Olives Watermelon Vodka and new Bacardi Grand Melon Rum.
Of course, the most nutrient-rich way to enjoy your watermelon is raw. Every chunk of fresh watermelon is filled with vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as the cancer-preventing antioxidant lycopene. In addition, this versatile fruit can help with hydration, as it clocks in at 92 percent water on average.