How to Tell a Ripe Melon
by Mel Gilden
OMG, it's hot here in the San Fernando Valley — a hundred or more Fahrenheit degrees the past few days. At night the temp gets down into the 70s. Now, where did I put my overcoat?
Here at the ragged end of summer we're running out of tomatoes to harvest and the watermelon that was such a treat at the beginning of the season has become merely a pleasant eating experience.
When I was a kid, my brother had a friend who was famous in the neighborhood because he didn't like watermelon. I liked watermelon then, and I like it now — the colder the better. At the local farmer's market I've seen yellow watermelon. I could probably eat it if I kept my eyes closed, but really — yellow watermelon seems unnatural.
Whenever I am called on to choose a watermelon, I think of my father. Long before I was born he owned and ran a small grocery store. For all I know it may have been one of those places where the clerks actually waited on the customers instead of the customer's cruising the aisles and waiting on themselves. One of his many talents was his ability to add up a column of figures faster than a person with a calculator. He would just run his finger down the columns — zam! zam! zam! — and write down the correct answer every time.
In one of his fine and funny books Calvin Trillin told about his father, also the owner of a small retail establishment; he could do the same thing. Zam! Zam! Zam! Apparently, many of Old Mr. Trillin's friends were also retailers and could do it too. Or as Calvin T said, "It would have been a parlor trick except that everybody in the parlor could to it."
But to get back to my father and choosing a watermelon: He claimed that he could tell if the melon was ripe or not by taking a straw from a broom — not a plastic straw but a real organic straw — and balancing it on a bump on the skin. If the straw turned, it meant the watermelon was ripe.
The faster the straw turns, the riper the melon. It's the same principal as water dowsing. You gotta believe.
I've tried my father's method a few times with mixed results, but I imagine that back in the good old days he must have sold a lot of watermelon.