Originally written on August 3, 2021. Updated 2023
Mark Twain said: “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.”
Well, this American literary hero understood the serious deliciousness of this fruit (or vegetable?), and, hopefully, after reading this article, you do, too.
National Watermelon Day on August 3 recognizes the refreshing summertime fruit and, since it is 92% water, it is very satisfying in the summer heat.
In fact, in the Kalahari desert (in Southern Africa), where they are called tsamma, watermelons are one of the main sources of water during the dry, hot season.
And, in the past, people crossed the desert only during a good tsamma season.
People have been digging into this tasty, juicy fruit for millennia and it seems that it all started in Ancient Egypt.
It’s said that watermelon cultivation began in the Nile Valley as early as the second millennium B.C., with the first harvest on record occurring approximately 5,000 years ago. Traces of watermelon and its seeds have been discovered on sites of the 12th Egyptian Dynasty, including in the tomb of King Tutankhamen.
But not only, as paintings of different types of watermelon have also been found in ancient Egyptian inscriptions!
In ancient times, watermelon seeds were sold to traders passing through the trade routes in the Kalahari Desert in Africa.
From there, the cultivation of the watermelon spread across Africa, after which it spread into Mediterranean countries and other parts of Europe.
By the end of the ninth century, its cultivation became common also in China and the rest of Asia.
However, the sweet fruit we enjoy today is the result of mutations over the course of a thousand years of cultivation.
Apparently the word “watermelon” first appeared in the English dictionary in 1615.
This vine-like flowering plant is commonly known as a type of melon, but it is not in the genus Cucumis.
The word watermelon refers to both the fruit and the plant to botanists, but maybe didn’t you know that the plant is a pepo, a berry with a thick rind and fleshy center.
Interestingly, pepos develop from an inferior ovary, also characteristic of the Cucurbitaceae, a scientific term for the gourd family.
But, actually, watermelons cross all produce boundaries: they are a fruit (a berry, to be precise) because they contain seeds to produce more plants, but also a vegetable, because they are planted from seeds and harvested like other vegetables. As watermelons are a member of the gourd family, they’re related to squash, cucumbers and pumpkins.
Watermelons produce a juicy, sweet interior flesh ranging from deep red to pink.
However, believe it or not, over 1200 varieties of watermelon are available, ranging from red to white, and come in different shapes and sizes.
Farmers in Japan have been growing watermelons in the shape of cubes for 40 years now, achieved by cultivating them in square-shaped boxes. But watermelons in the shape of pyramids, hearts, and even human faces have also recently been perfected and sold.
All parts of the fruit are edible – its flesh can be eaten as is, cooked or juiced.
In many parts of the world, the rind or the thick green outer covering of the fruit is stewed, fried or pickled while, in some parts of in the China, seeds are dried and roasted and enjoyed like nuts.
With proper growing conditions, watermelons grow to enormous sizes, and around the world competitions award prizes each year for the largest one.
The Guinness Book of World Records states that the heaviest watermelon weighed almost 159kg!
In any case, watermelons are enjoyed in all shapes, sizes, and colors on National Watermelon Day.
Delightfully sweet and tasty, they are the go-to fruit for summer, and no picnic is complete without it. Best enjoyed outdoors, watermelon-eating contests and seed-spitting contests are a popular tradition.
Some people eat watermelon for all their meals, including a big glass of watermelon juice for breakfast, a lovely watermelon salad for lunch, and for dinner watermelon, with a refreshing watermelon sorbet to end the day.
Of course, with slices of watermelon as a snack all through their day.
Watermelons are mostly made of water.
But what if you replaced some of that water with…vodka?
You can organize a boozy celebration with your friends by cutting a hole in a watermelon, inserting a funnel and pouring in some vodka.
The rest is…well, you probably won’t remember the rest.
But if an alcholic party is not for you…watermelons are in the same family as the pumpkin, and you can carve them, too.
Back to Japan, locals have watermelon splitting down to an art. In the game of Suikawari, players are blindfolded, spun around three times and given the chance to crack open a watermelon with a wooden stick. Yes, more or less a Piñata but, instead of candy, you get watermelon guts in your face.
But, on this day, eating the watermelon straight up is a great place to start.
A fruit salad can compliment it very well, as can a little bit of sugar on top.
But why end there? The watermelon can also be put in your blender, and pour them into molds to form watermelon popsicles.
And, if you have a garden, why not spend the day finding out how you can plant a watermelon plant there?
If you do it today, you’ll not have to make a grocery store run to get watermelons for Watermelon Day next year…
Images from web – Google Research