5 Steps to Picking Ripe Watermelons
Americans have taken much joy in fresh watermelons. Their roots run deep into American history, particularly in the South where they thrive in its warm weather. Philip Henry Gosse, a 19th century English naturalist, describes the watermelon and its subsequent part on Southern hospitality during his stay in Alabama. In his published journal, Letters from Alabama, he writes in an entry dated July 15th, 1838, “The water-melon (Cucurbita citrullus), is deservingly esteemed; as I know not a more cooling or delicious fruit in the heat of summer…If a guest call, the first offering of friendship is a glass of cold water as soon as seated; then there is an immediate shout for water-melons, and each taking his own, several are destroyed before the knife is laid down.”
As with most fruits, the flavor of the watermelon greatly depends on the level of ripeness. Watermelons go from bland to sweet in flavor in just a couple of days, and once picked, the melons stop developing flavor.
A ripe watermelon looks the same as an unripe one. Subtle changes do exist, however, but the gardener must form an eye to it. The Alabamians evidently knew how to pick the ripest melons, or Gosse’s favorable account of a porch full of happy seed spittin’ Southerners would have been much different.
Look for these 5 characteristics when picking your next watermelon to eat.
- Look at the watermelon. The melon should be firm, heavy, and bruise free. The skin should be dull and the stripes near the top (if it has any) should be faded and less obvious than when younger. The bottom, where the melon rested on the ground, should be a yellow-cream color and not an immature white or green.
- Scratch the bottom of the watermelon. The rind should be tough and resist denting, and instead tear and slip to show a light green under the rind.
- Thump the watermelon. This is a classic way to test ripeness. A ripe melon should have a low, dull, solid thud, like a hardwood door. If the melon sounds more like the hollow knock of an aluminum door, instead of a solid oak one, the melon is not ripe yet. This method takes a bit of practice, but produces great results. Be careful, however, overripe fruit sound similar to ripe ones.
- Check the tendril nearest the Watermelon. The little “pigtail” should begin to die back as the melon reaches maturity.
- Look at the stem. It will begin to crack near the watermelon when ripe.
I am not yet putting this into the post, but I have taken a poll recently on social media as to how people pick their watermelons. Quite a few folks gave me the most interesting answer. Here are the instructions to the straw method: Place a piece of straw from a broom or the side of the road or yard across the watermelon lengthwise. Let go of the straw and if it begins to spin (and they say it will be fascinating!), the more it spins, the more ripe the watermelon will be. Can you believe that? Is this ‘wives tale’ true? You gotta know that I am going to be trying it. I will let you know of the results in a follow-up post!
Please comment if you have done this or if you have other ways to foretell the ripeness of a watermelon. I would also LOVE to hear your memories of eating watermelon. I think we all have them. I would like to use a few of them in another book I am writing.
Back to the real blog:
If your watermelon meets the majority of the above criteria, then it is ready to harvest. Harvest watermelons with a sharp knife or shears, to prevent disease, and store in a cool location (optimally 50-60 degrees).
If none of your watermelons are ripe, and you wish to know how much longer you must wait, look at the maturity date for your variety, usually 70-90 days, and subtract the days expired since planting.
Happy Watermelon and Seed Spittin’ Days!