Nothing says December holiday in South Africa like watermelon does! It is a tasty treat that can be enjoyed as is or you can spruce it up with our farm fare ideas below.
A short history
Watermelons originated in Africa and are related to pumpkins, squash, and cucumber. It is now widely cultivated across the world, with China being the biggest producer globally. However, it is not just in modern times that this fruit has become popular. Seeds have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. This fruit was cultivated for its high water content and stored to be eaten during dry seasons.
From Africa it spread to India and China. In the United States (US) it was introduced by African slaves and quickly spread to South America as well. More than 1 000 varieties have been perfected over time to give us the watermelons we know and love.
Modern varieties include yellow fruit. A seedless variety has also been developed. Although seedless watermelons were grown as far back as 1939, this variety only became popular in the 21st century. In 2014 nearly 85% of total sales in the US were seedless. However, in South Africa, this variety has not taken off as it has in other countries. One of the reasons is the high-priced seeds, exacerbated by weak exchange rates.
Growing watermelon in SA
In South Africa, planting starts in early spring. Hence, producers already start getting the produce ready for December ready in late August.
Germination takes place when soil temperatures exceed 15°C. The melons grow in tropical to temperate climates and need temperatures higher than 25°C to thrive.
Some producers start their seedlings in greenhouses during July to have the seedlings ready for planting earlier. This allows them to market their produce a bit earlier than other farmers.
A watermelon consists mostly of water and contains 6% sugar. The fruit is low in fat and contains reasonable amounts of vitamin C. The beautiful colour of the flesh comes from the antioxidant lycopene which also gives tomatoes their red colour.
Choosing the perfect watermelon
Choosing a watermelon that is ripe and ready to eat is easy once you know what to look for. Follow the steps below when choosing one in-store this holiday:
- Pick up the watermelon you want to buy. If it feels heavy for its size, it is ripe.
- Look for the yellow spot at the bottom of the watermelon. This mark develops where the fruit rests on the ground. If this spot is a creamy yellow, it is ripe.
- Listen while tapping on the rind. A ripe watermelon will have a deep hollow sound. This sound means that it is full of juice and thus at the peak of its ripeness. Watermelons that are not yet ripe, will sound dull.
Juice running down your arm is a big part of enjoying a slice of watermelon. An easy hack to enjoy it in a cleaner way is to insert a popsicle stick into the rind. Cut a round slice of watermelon approximately 2,5cm thick. Divide it up, as you would a pizza, to form triangles.
Using a sharp knife, make a small incision in the rind and place the watermelon on the stick. These popsicles can also be frozen to make an even more refreshing snack. For more watermelon hacks, watch this video by SuzelleDIY.
Watermelon juice can be extracted using a juicer. However, if you do not have one, a blender or stick blender works just as well. Once the fruit has been blended, it can be enjoyed as is or it can be strained using a fine sieve to remove seeds or pulp. To make enjoying this drink even more relaxing, why not add a splash of your favourite liquor. Tequila, white rum, vodka and gin all make a welcome addition to this refreshing drink.
Did you know that watermelon can also be used in savoury dishes? It is delicious if added to mixed salads or you can make a watermelon salad. Click here for salad recipes from the US National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB). You can also use the rind to make pickles or kimchi. Click here to learn more about using every part of this fruit. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit