Moms know what summer activities kids like – splashing in the sprinkler, hitting the pool, catching fireflies, staying up late. We also know what kids like to eat … well, besides treats from the ice cream truck. Summertime is watermelon time. Perhaps no other fruit quite says summer like delicious, juicy watermelon, and while you can get them year round, summer is when they are at their best.
In my family of five, our fridge is usually stocked with watermelon during the summer, whether a big wedge waiting to be cut, slices in a bag or a container of cubed melon. I’ve bought every variety or color I’ve seen and prefer a whole melon that I can cut myself. My family loves watermelon at any meal and finds it to be an especially refreshing dessert to cool us off when we eat on our porch outside. With 92 percent of its weight consisting of water, it’s no wonder we crave watermelon in the summer!
That’s one of the best things about watermelon – that it contains so much water, making it a great choice to help you stay hydrated during the steamy summer months. “Whenever you have summer cookouts is when we seem to have watermelons,” said Jenny. Nutritionists will tell you that consuming more fruits and vegetables is not only good for your health, but is also one more way to boost your hydration level. Better still? Watermelon tastes good and is good for you! That makes this lycopene-rich fruit a hit with moms because it boosts their kids nutritional intake easily. It’s not much of a struggle to get the kids to clean their plates when there’s watermelon on it. If only it were that easy with vegetables.
There are more than 1,200 varieties of watermelon, with flesh that is red, orange, yellow or white, but most moms I talked with had never tasted anything but the red fleshed type. Some hadn’t even heard of yellow or orange varieties. “I wouldn’t be the first one to try it, but I’d like to at someone else’s house!” Courtney said, adding with a laugh that she’d sample it at my home because she knows our family is adventuresome with food.
The red-fleshed watermelon is an iconic favorite among moms I spoke to, and with the 4th of July right around the corner, this is the perfect choice. “There’s just something about a bright red watermelon and summer,” said my friend Jaime.
“It just seems American and fits in with the red, white and blue,” echoed Janell, who buys watermelon all summer long as well as on the 4th. My friend Courtney agreed. “It’s a very patriotic fruit,” she said. “So it’s good for the 4th of July.”
Jim Arnold, produce manager at the Hy-Vee in Mission, Kan., said he will put whole watermelons on sale for the holiday and expected strong sales. “That’s always a huge draw around the 4th.” He added that whole seedless melons and sliced triangles (with the rind) are the most popular.
Moms bought watermelon all summer long and were split into groups: those who preferred to buy whole or partial-cut melons and those who went for the ease of pre-cut produce. “I know it’s more expensive for it to be cut up, but it’s so convenient,” said Karen. “Plus, it’s an easy side dish to just stick on the table.”
“I buy a section of it so I can see what it looks like, and then I slice it myself,” Jenny said. Several other moms thought the whole or partial cut melons were a better option because they would be fresher. “I don’t like it to be too big so it doesn’t go to waste,” said Chris, who looks, feels and smells the watermelon before buying. “But I’ve bought some that looked good but were mushy on the inside.”
So what’s the trick to picking the perfect melon?
Many moms ask their produce manager for help. Others have different tricks. Janell laughed and told me she learned from her grandmother. “She told me to look for one that is a little more green and then to thump it and listen for a low thump,” she said. “It seems to work for me!”
My friend Annie and her family are what I’d call watermelon connoisseurs, going through four whole watermelons a week during the summer. While I was at their home recently, I glimpsed a pile of 3 round melons piled up in the den like bowling balls. A favorite fruit in China where they grew up, Annie said her family would buy between 20-30 watermelons at a time and store them under the bed. She said they each could go through a half a watermelon a day! They also employ the “thump” method to select the best melon. Her husband, Sheng, was very sure of his method in picking the perfectly ripe watermelon, demonstrating the correct and incorrect sound a good watermelon should make when thumped: “THU..THU…THU, not thu…thu…thu.”
Hmmm, ok. I guess I’m still mystified by the selection process. But as long as the hot summer days linger, I’ll continue thumping and buying watermelon. But just in case I happen upon some especially tasty ones, I think I’ll clear some space under my bed.
Sarah Krause is a Kansas City-based contributor to The Packer's Fresh Talk blog.