I have become a watermelon expert. That’s not me in the photo but it reflects the place watermelon has in my life.
Watermelons are nothing I take lightly. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, heavy as they are. For a fruit. But beyond that I pride myself, I demand of myself, connoisseurship.
I stand at my kitchen island in the morning, breakfast ahead of me, my watermelon before me on the cutting board, barely, or already chopped and awaiting scooping from a large plastic container. Half a full-size watermelon will, if a good specimen, have yielded a quart’s worth of flesh and I will spend several meals, breakfast, and maybe snacks, scooping it on top of yogourt to slurp in combination bites, alternating with coffee. It is sublime.
If I’ve chosen well.
The process begins at the store, grocery or club, with the telltale world’s-largest-carboard-box sitting on a pallet somewhere in the vicinity of the produce section. It is obtrusive, a pen for baby green pigs, legless and shiny. If there are two boxes, you know it’s summer in Canada. $3.49.
There’s something about a fruit so large for so little, so much eating, that I find irresistible, that and the taste. I immediately begin my slow circling of the bin, a hunter, eying its quarry from above. It’s true, they fooled me last time. I got one home and that first harikiri move with the carving knife revealed that my superior powers of deduction and intuition had failed me; there was softness around the seeds, the seedless seeds, black-seedless but not white-seedless, the ghostly remains of their predecessors carrying on. I can live with that; that lie, I have made my peace with it. But it is always sorrowful to me to discover that I’ll be composting five of the ten pounds of my purchase because of softness. I can not abide softness in a watermelon, mealy and mushy. The flesh must be succulent-crisp. And so I am wary and chide myself for losing my resolve after my most recent disappointment, “It’s too late in the season” I’ve said, “I’m not buying anymore.” And yet here I am circling the cardboard square.
And then I slow, bend over and reach in. Will it be one of the irregularly shaped oblongs, pushing out to the side like it once aspired to be round, or will it be a model of elongated ovalness? And will it be pale green or dark? Yellow on one side? What’s it telling me? I settle on one, grasp it with both hands and bring it up to my ear like a child raising a shotput and I balance it there beside my ear. With the other hand, I knock. And slap. And the result passes through the watermelon and into my head; it is sound, vibration. Does it seem hollow? Like a drum? Or does it seem waterlogged? Beware the waterlogged watermelon; “Mush Ahead”, it’s telling you. Avoid dead-sounding duds. Go for the bongo. Picture insides with pink sinews tightly strung and whole and conducting the the knock or thump without resistance, that is a watermelon’s watermelon.
My label collection, trophies, reads like a passport; I save them and stick them in the front of a recipe book. Canada in season, Mexico not, and Florida or California year round. The amount of fruit that has migrated north must be enough to tip the continent, watermelons chief among them.