Watermelons originated in southern Africa but were already grown as a crop in Egypt 5000 years ago and are now planted throughout the world. China got them in the 10th century CE and is now the largest producer. They were brought to North America in the 16th century where California, Georgia, Arizona and Texas are the major producers.
Watermelon fruit is unlike the Cucumus melons of Western Asia in that they are not hollow in the center but have a uniform pulp throughout. Many sizes have been developed (the examples here are 22 pounds for the large and 3-3/4 pounds for the small) and a number of colors. Yellow and white are fine for decorative accents, but as usual I recommend the standard red color as the best tasting,
Seedless Watermelons are not actually without seeds, but the seeds are all or mostly immature, white and very soft when the melon is ripe. Making a seedless watermelon is quit a feat of genetic engineering, but personally I don't see the point - I've always just swallowed the seeds anyway so they don't bother me. I find the standard watermelon to have better flavor and texture than manipulated ones.
The ancestral Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var citroides),
known as the Citron Melon, is still extant and is
now wild in Southern and Baja California, though nobody knows how it got
there. The white flesh is so firm it's sort of "rind all the way through"
but its high pectin content makes it popular for preserves.
The main use of Watermelons is to just slice and eat, though they are also used in drinks and various fruit concoctions. Watermelon juice is sometimes boiled down to make a sweet syrup. Watermelon rind is often pickled in the U.S. and particularly Russia, but more properly that should be the Citron Melon. In any case, the green skin is peeled off before pickling.
Watermelons have long been used as a way to sneak alcoholic beverages into "dry" events. You cut a small hole at one end and keep pouring 100 proof vodka into it until it will take no more. Then plug the hole with the piece you cut out. If you do it carefully it'll be practically invisible. This concoction is called a "hard watermelon".
Watermelon is kind of a weakness of mine - I'll eat watermelon until I'm in pain, then go back for more as soon as I can. At Chamber of Commerce mixers I tend to hang around the fruit plate and deat all the watermelon.
Buying: Pounding watermelons is not effective. Just pat the melon with the open palm of your hand. If it is ripe it will feel live and responsive.
Storing: Watermelons can be just set out in a cool place out of the sun and will last a week, but will slowly decline. Once cut they must be refrigerated and will last at most a couple of days. An over-ripe watermelon loses its crispness, starting around the seeds. Seedless varieties are said to store a little longer than standard issue.
Cooking: Well, mostly you don't. You just slice them up into wedges or cubes and eat them well chilled or include them in fruit salads and the like.
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