Watermelon

Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, is the best fruit in the world if you're thirsty. It comes from Africa, where early farmers in semi-desert areas developed it as a source of water during droughts. People have lived with no other source of water but watermelon juice for as long as 6 weeks.

Seems like some people can grow watermelon and some can't. I have neighbors who grow fields of watermelon to sell on a truck-garden basis, but I can't seem to grow even one big one. (I've just about decided to quit wasting my time and stick to cantaloupes, which are much easier for me to grow.) Shumway has a great watermelon collection. There are even small watermelon varieties, such as Sugar Bush, that can be grown in a container. planting: Plant outdoors a week after last frost date, 1 inch deep, 8 feet between hills and 8 feet between rows. Allow a week or two for germination and about 100 days to harvest.

Testing Watermelon for Ripeness: Using the thump test, rap the melon with your knuckles; if it sounds hollow, it's ready. The plug test is surer: With a pocketknife, cut a round cork-shaped plug from the side of the watermelon, pull it out, and have a look at what's inside. If it's white, you've been way overeager. If it's pink, it's coming but is not ready yet. If it's bright pink, you can eat the plug and harvest the melon, or slip the plug back in the melon and leave it until you're ready to serve it fresh off the vine for dinner. Another test is to look and see whether the place where the melon skin is lying on the ground has turned kind of white—then it's ripe.

Freezing Melon: I think the best way to eat a watermelon is to cut it in pieces, start eating, and continue until you're full. But Lane Morgan says mushed-up, frozen watermelon makes good kids' popsicles. And a new neighbor of mine who has lived entirely on raw food for many years freezes melon chunks. He cuts 1-inch chunks from the heart of melons like casabas and honeydews. He doesn't include any rind. If just dicing the melon hasn't given him enough juice for packaging, he mashes a little extra melon to give him juice to pour over the fruit. He packages it in plastic baggies. Here's the extension service's way: Cut the melon into slices, balls, or cubes. Pour cold, light syrup to cover. (Optional: Add 1 t. lemon juice per 1 c. syrup for flavor.) Cover and freeze.

<i> WATERMELON SEEDS One thing they haven't put on the American market yet is watermelon seeds. But Alice Shattuck wrote me that when her grandmother (and Alice is a grandmother herself!) and her mother used to cook up a lot of watermelon for syrup, they would save all the seeds. They washed the seeds, boiled them a little, dried them off, and spread them on wooden trays to dry in the sun.

Continue reading here: Cucumbers

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