Mark Twain, described the watermelon as the “chief of the world’s luxuries…when one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.” And indeed, it is astonishing how a fruit which consists of over 90% water can taste so sweet and tempt all our senses with its red flesh.
The story of the watermelon was though not always red-coloured. The fruit’s wild ancestor, native to Africa, and with evidences of usage in Libya dating 5000 years ago, was actually a fruit with pale-green flesh and quite bitter taste.
Cultivation started some 4000 years ago when the Egyptians cultivated varieties of watermelons, changing the shape from round to oblong and the flesh to sort of yellowish.
The ancient Greek name for the watermelon was the pepon, a word which is nowadays attached to both melons and pumpkins. And the fruit was praised with many healing properties.
By circa 500A.D., the watermelon’s cultivation succeeded to a quite orange flesh, as a Byzantine-era mosaic in Israel depicts.
And the first sweet red-fleshed watermelon was depicted in the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval illustrated manuscript, based on health and on an 11th century Arab medical treatise.
The watermelon fruit was introduced in Europe by the 13th century, by the Moorish invaders, and the word made its first appearance in the English language, in John Florio’s compilation of Italian proverbs A World of Words: “Cicómero, a cucumber or water Melon.”
In 1615, the word was featured in an English dictionary, along with the Diary of Richard Cocks, cape-merchant in the English factory in Japan, recording a present of 10 watermelons.
Japan has a long history with watermelons and in the spirit of creativity and novelty, the country managed to grow cubic and even pyramid-shaped ones.
Yet, it is China, cultivating watermelons since the 10th century, the world’s largest watermelon producer.
The etymology of the word is fairly logical, the melon compound originates from Middle French and was firstly recorded in the English language in 1398, in John Trevisa’s encyclopaedia De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Properties of Things).
And now to the practical side, how to pick a juicy and delicious watermelon? Make sure it feels heavy for its size; check on the acoustics – tap the underbelly of the watermelon, a ripe one will have a deep hollow sound; do not be repulsed by the yellow spot, it is where the fruit rests on the ground and it shall be creamy yellow; but avoid watermelons with many yellow spots and such with bruises.