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By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Welcome to Saturday's dead refreshing blog...all about watermelons actually.
Citrullus lanatus, to give the watermelon its botanical name, is thought to have originated in the region of my birth, West Africa, although I have no recollection of it as a child. We grew grapefruit, mangos and plantains in our Nigerian garden but it was not until I was holidaying in Egypt years later that I first tasted watermelon. That it was enjoyed in the land of the Pharaohs thousands of years ago is evidenced from its depiction in tomb artworks and the discovery of watermelon seeds in various Egyptian sarcophagi from the early dynastic period onwards.
It should come as no big surprise that the watermelon has been cultivated along the banks of the Nile for millennia. The plant prefers a dry (rather than humid) tropical or sub-tropical climate, 25 Celsius and above to really thrive, and a generous supply of water. Technically the fruits are berries, which grow on a trailing vine. These berries have a tough variegated green rind and an undivided interior (pepo) usually of pinkish-red flesh dotted with black seeds, though some varieties have orange or yellow pulp and there are now even seedless options available. Watermelons take considerably longer than other species of melon to grow, mature and ripen, typically about ninety days from flowering to harvesting.



In the mid-1960s Richard Brautigan (once described as "a literary magus to the literate young") wrote a dystopian novel titled In Watermelon Sugar. I'm re-reading it at the moment, an intriguing and poetic work, in tandem with R.C. Sherriff's  The Hopkins Manuscript, another imagined cataclysmic future in which the moon collides with Earth. The father of the protagonist in Brautigan's story "raised watermelons", which is an interesting way of describing his relationship with his crop; and in that strange post-apocalyptic world of the survivors, the watermelon had become a staple:
"I walked down by the Watermelon Works. That's where we process the watermelons into sugar. We take the juice from the watermelons and cook it down until there's nothing left but sugar, and then we work it into the shape of this thing that we have: our lives."
In the same way that plastics have achieved a ubiquity in the modern world, so watermelon sugar was the starch out of which Brautigan's survivors made paper, clothes, building materials et cetera. (By the way, there are no watermelons in Sherriff's terrifying tale.)
Is it true then that there is a lot of sugar in watermelons? Actually not really. By percentage of sugar per 100 grammes, the watermelon at between 6% and 9% (depending on the variety) doesn't even make the top ten, which are all fruits or berries with double-digit percentages, headed by grapes at nearly 20%, bananas, mangos, cherries and apples. Of course, scale plays a part and a field of watermelons will produce a greater tonnage than a field of grapes, hence a greater volume of sugar overall.
As their name suggests, watermelons are 90% water, very thirst-quenching and easy to swallow. They are also low in fat and are a source of vitamin C. Usually eaten fresh - sliced or cubed - they can also be juiced, pickled (rind and all) or fermented to make watermelon wine. Additionlly the seeds can be dried and eaten or milled as flour.
While the world at large regards watermelon as a fruit, the Oklahoma Senate declared it the state vegetable by statute in 2007. Only in America!
Egypt is still in the top ten of watermelon producing countries (along with Turkey, Iran, Brazil, America and Russia) but China, as in so much else, dwarfs all others as it grows over two-thirds of the planet's annual harvest of 117 million tonnes of the fruit.
There must be something innately attractive about the watermelon that has led to various depictions of its green-white-and-red-with-black-dots image adorning fabrics and wallpapers, appearing as brooches, ear-rings, bags and seaside inflatables. It has garnered its own cool iconography. 



There are several very good poems about watermelons if you care to go looking for them. Pam included one by John Tobias in her Tuesday blog this week. There is also an excellent Ode To The Watermelon by Aracelis Girmay that I urge you to check out. Charles Simic composed the following very clever little piece in 1938:
Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.
and William Heyen wrote his beautiful Watermelon poem in 1975. It is well worth reading and thinking about. I shall follow suit and adopt the singular name for my own latest effort...
Big as a bowling ball
but don't try bouncing,
each fantastic womb-like fruit
has been dutifully swelling
on the nursery vine,
beautifully round
within its stretch-marked skin
more carapace than rind,
until at three-month term
one flash of the machete
sets these babies free.
On the hottest of days,
cooled over ice,
the gashed red flesh
oozes sweet juices,
crushed, melts on the palate
like a fibrous sorbet
too subtle to ever be
labelled a flavor bomb.
I have just discovered
watermelon lust -
that thirst-slaking thrill
of a chilled throat
on first consuming
such watery flesh -
as restorative to body and soul
as drinking rain in the desert
tasting of fragrant dust.
Thanks, as ever, for reading my stuff, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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