GUARANTEED! promised the sign perched on top of the watermelon shack at the edge of the field across from my childhood home. It meant that if the watermelon we took home wasn't ripe, my mother would send me back across the field to exchange it for a better one.
If you weren't lucky enough to have a watermelon shack right by your house, you had to take extra caution when buying your watermelon. You would have had to ask the shopkeeper to plunge into it. And he would oblige, carefully choosing a fruit, shaking it, slapping it lightly and then bringing it up close to his ear for a second.
Then, with a quick twist of his sharp knife, he'd make a triangle cut into the green rind and pull out the perfect wedge to prove the watermelon was ripe.
Magically, it always was.
When we were kids, it was one of the best shows of summer.
That was many years ago, long before this big sweet treat made it into the huge bins that are now found at every grocery store and supermarket.
Yet I still enjoy watching the strange ways people try to test whether the watermelon is ripe. Tapping, twisting the stem to see if it will twist back, even smelling - everyone has some magical, mystical way to check out a watermelon.
In fact, it is difficult to tell if a watermelon is ripe based on its outside appearance. One way to check is to look at the spot where the melon has been resting on the ground. If the spot is yellowish white, the watermelon is probably ripe. If it's a greenish white, it is still somewhat unripe. Some say you can tell whether a watermelon is ripe by tapping it. If you hear a "hollow" sound, it's ripe.
Personally, I doubt that most people are able to tell if the watermelon is ripe or not according to its thump effect. But there is one simple way to tell for sure.
Look at the stem end. If the stem is shrunken and discolored, the watermelon is ripe. If the stem is missing, the watermelon is too ripe; it will be dark and not taste fresh. If the stem is green - the watermelon is too green and not ripe.
For all its popularity in the Mediterranean, the watermelon - which is actually a vegetable related to cucumbers, pumpkins and squash - came to our region from Africa. Its genetic homeland lies in the Kalahari Desert.
Containing 92 percent water, the watermelon is an ideal health food because it has no fat or cholesterol and it is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 and C.
Watermelons come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes, most of them with red flesh and all of them share that particularly refreshing quality.
Seedless watermelons are the most popular variety. It took a great deal of knowledge and many growing seasons to get rid of those seeds, yet the result is truly amazing and even more amazing to taste. The seedless watermelon is sweeter and crunchier, with a nice thin rind.
Every part of a watermelon is edible - even the seeds that can be baked and the rinds that can be pickled.
As for myself, I love pairing watermelon with salty feta cheese. It's one of the summer's most delightful rewards.
If you want to surprise your family or friends next time they visit, here are two easy watermelon recipes.
Watermelon Soup with Ginger and Mint
4 cups seeded watermelon chunks and juice
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp. sugar
1⁄3 cup white wine
3-4 cm. piece of fresh ginger root, thinly sliced
Spearmint sprigs for garnish
Blend all ingredients except the ginger in a blender. Add the ginger slices and chill the soup for several hours. Remove the ginger slices. Serve the soup garnished with mint sprigs.
1⁄2 medium watermelon, sliced lengthwise
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate (Prigat)
1 can crushed pineapple, with liquid
1⁄2 cup sugar
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
Scoop out watermelon flesh; place in blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Pour puree through a wire mesh strainer into bowl, discarding pulp and any seeds. Measure 8 cups juice; add lemonade concentrate, pineapple and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Pour mixture into a 30x20-cm. pan; cover and freeze until firm. Break frozen mixture into chunks. Place one-half of mixture in blender or food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining frozen mixture. Garnish if desired and serve immediately.
Makes about 9 cups.