By Angela Shelf Medearis
A Fourth of July picnic, an ice-cold watermelon, patriotic songs and lots of loud, brilliantly hued fireworks are my idea of a wonderful holiday celebration. Watermelons serve two purposes on a hot July day — they’re a sweet finish to a meal, and a source of nutritious hydration. Watermelon also is low in fat and cholesterol-free. It has a vast nutritional profile including high levels of the antioxidant lycopene, an excellent source of the important amino acid citrulline and is a good source of vitamins C, B-1, B-6, and a source of vitamin A.
Watermelons are classified as a fruit, much like the pepper, pumpkin or tomato. However, as a member of the cucurbitaceae plant family of gourds, watermelon also is related to the cucumber and squash. Watermelons are planted from seeds or seedlings, harvested and then cleared from a field like a vegetable. Since watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, it also can be considered a vegetable. Some refer to watermelon as a “fregetable” — a combination of a fruit and a vegetable.
Watermelons are now available year-round in mini, seeded and seedless, and yellow- and orange-flesh varieties. They also come in various sizes, as well as two colors: red and yellow. This “fregetable” is especially plentiful from April through October. About 200 to 300 varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico, although only about 50 are very popular.
There’s an art to picking the perfect watermelon. Look the watermelon over and pick it up. The one you select should be firm, symmetrical and free from bruises, cuts or dents, and heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92% water weight. To find out if a watermelon is ripe, knock it, and if it sounds hollow then it is ripe. The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
Compared to most fruits, watermelons need a more “tropical” climate — a thermometer reading of 55 F is ideal. Maintain the purchase temperature of watermelons. If you bought it at room temperature, you can keep it at room temperature. If you refrigerate it after buying, be sure to keep the watermelon cool. Whole melons will keep for seven to 10 days at room temperature. Store them too long, and they’ll lose flavor and texture.
According to the FDA, you should wash all fruits and vegetables, including all melons with rinds, in clean, running water before eating. Don’t forget to dry them, too! Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before cutting the watermelon. Wash all food-contact areas and equipment such as cutting boards, countertops, peelers and knives with hot water and soap to avoid cross contamination.
After cutting the watermelon, store the wrapped pieces in a refrigerator (32-40 F) for no more than three to four days. After two days of refrigeration, watermelons start to develop an off-flavor, become pitted and lose color. Freezing causes the rind to break down and produces a mealy, mushy texture. Peeled and/or fresh-cut fruit should be refrigerated if not consumed within two hours, and leftover fresh-cut fruit should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
If you didn’t buy a seedless watermelon, here’s how remove seeds quickly and easily:
1. Wash and quarter a whole watermelon.
2. Cut each quarter into three or four wedges.
3. Cut lengthwise along the seed line with a paring knife,
and lift off the piece.
4. Using a fork, scrape seeds both from the removed
piece and the remaining flesh on the rind.
5. Cut into desired sizes.
Now that you know how to select and prepare a watermelon, use the cubed pieces in this recipe for Sweet and Sour Watermelon and Cucumber Salad. It’s the perfect salad for a picnic as it keeps well and is easy to transport. Enjoy a sweet, delicious slice of watermelon at your Fourth of July picnic and all year-long!
SWEET AND SOUR WATERMELON AND CUCUMBER SALAD
3 cups seedless watermelon balls or small chunks
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon poppy seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped
Mix together the vinegar, water, sugar and poppy seeds in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped green onions. Place the watermelon and cucumber in a serving bowl and pour the marinade over the top. Toss gently before serving. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.
(Information and recipe courtesy of The National Watermelon Promotion Board, www.watermelon.org.)
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her latest cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.
© 2021 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis