Mark Twain once said that to taste a watermelon is to know “what the angels eat,” and I wouldn’t put it any other way since this fruit played a significant role in my childhood. In my home, watermelon was always sitting in the fridge, waiting to be turned into tasty treats during the summer.
In fact, a long-standing tradition in my home for as long as I can remember is to make and enjoy refreshing watermelon popsicles on Summer days during vacations. A few times during the summer, my mother, father, and I would go down to the store and make a trip out of picking out the best watermelons.
With our checklist in hand, we would look for a whole (none of that sliced stuff for us) watermelon that was oval or round and bump-free. We also looked for an orange creamy field spot. The darker the spot, the tastier the watermelon. If the spot was white, we put it back on the shelf since it wasn’t quite ready to be eaten.
One of the most important things I was tasked with was weighing the watermelons I wanted to choose to ensure I found the ones that were heavier than their apparent size. ‘The heavier, the better,’ my mother would say since this meant it would be sweeter and have more water which is what you need when making watermelon popsicles from scratch.
When we returned home from choosing our watermelons, I would spend time with my mother, following her family’s watermelon popsicle recipe. From the moment they went into the freezer, I would be anxious to eat one as soon as possible. Since we made a batch at a time, I would often come back from playing all day to enjoy a deliciously cooling popsicle before going out to play some more.
As I have grown older, I’ve recently come to realize that this delicious bright red fruit that played a role in my favorite childhood family tradition has a rich history. This is unsurprising since it has been around for more than 5,000 years.
It’s also interesting to know that watermelon is different now than it was thousands of years ago. The red fruit we eat now is wholly different from the originally cultivated watermelons of the past. According to historical accounts, red watermelons only started appearing in the 14th century when watermelons were bred to become sweeter.
Yet, I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised at its changes when considering its evolution. This delightful fruit originated in Africa and spread north into the Mediterranean countries before reaching other parts of Europe and the world.
It is believed that archeologists found watermelon seeds at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya and that there is proof watermelon was eaten in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome. Many have surmised that with each new country, it was grown in the original watermelon adapted until it has become what it is today.
However, even with all I know now, I still find it surreal to truly believe that my eating watermelon (albeit in popsicle form) was something pharaohs and kings used to do in times gone by.
I can’t say that if I knew all this while still a child, it would have changed my thoughts on eating watermelon popsicles, but I like to think it would have made me enjoy them more.
WORDS: Jason Collins.
IMAGE CREDIT: (ENTER NAMES)