Watermelon

Watermelon

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

There is something childishly appealing about watermelons, with their vivid mouthwash-pink flesh, slick black seeds, stripy green skin and simple sweet flavour that satisfies our primitive desire for sugar. It is hard to retain a sense of dignity when you munch a big smiley slice of watermelon and feel the juice run down your chin!

Watermelons are believed to have originated in Africa. Their first recorded harvesting was nearly 5000 years ago in Egypt, where there are numerous paintings in Pharaonic tombs depicting their beauty. Watermelons still grow wild in desert watering-holes in some parts of Africa and one can only admire Mother Nature for her foresight in arranging for such a welcome source of liquid refreshment in harsh desert lands.

From Egypt, watermelons were spread along ancient Mediterranean trade routes by traders who carried the seeds in the holds of their boats. By the tenth century they had crossed the Middle East to reach China, and by the thirteenth century the Arabs had enthusiastically spread them around the rest of Europe, although they were not known in England until the end of the sixteenth century. The southern states of America took to the watermelon with as much alacrity as they did the African slaves who brought them. They seem to have been a particular favourite of that famous southern author Mark Twain, who wrote in 1894: ‘When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat’.

For the hot and dusty countries of the Middle East and southern Mediterranean watermelons have long provided a welcome liquid relief to parched throats. Anyone who has visited Asia or Southern Europe during the hot summer months will recall the relief of spying a street vendor whose barrow was piled high with chilled watermelons. An icy cold wedge sliced from one of these monsters does more to slake one’s thirst than any fizzy soft drink!

In the Middle East endless varieties of fruit are available during the summer, and an extravagant selection is always offered at the end of a meal. Melons and watermelons are great favourites and are always served chilled. Persians have known how to store winter snow and ice for use in the summer months for at least 2000 years, and it doesn’t require much of an imagination to see how easily watermelons, with their crunchy, granular, almost icy flesh, could have been transformed, perhaps with the addition of a few drops of rosewater, into sweetly perfumed sherbet.

Selecting and storing watermelon

Nowadays watermelons come in more manageable sizes. The Minilee, for instance, is closer in size and shape to a honeydew or Galia melon. This makes them much less daunting to the shopper, and far easier to cart home.

When purchasing, look for fruit which feels firm and heavy. Once cut, watermelons can be wrapped in clingfilm and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Instead of reaching for ice-blocks or cans of fizzy drinks on hot summer days, why not try a slice of delicious, thirst-quenching watermelon instead?

Using watermelon

In Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries, watermelon is most often enjoyed as a thirst-quenching snack or as part of a dessert fruit plate, perhaps with a few slices of creamy halvah. Watermelons are ideal for making sorbets and, simpler still, only require a little mashing to make a granita.

With the large thick-skinned varieties of watermelon it is also possible to pickle the white layer of rind under the outer green skin. Watermelon pickles are a very popular condiment on Greek and Eastern Mediterranean tables, and are also much loved in the southern states of America. In France and Spain the rind is also popular candied and is often part of a glacé fruit selection. And then there are the seeds. In many Middle Eastern countries they are toasted, wrapped in little packages and sold as a popular street-snack.

Recipes in this Chapter

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