Symbols of Summer

August 26, 2005

Summer has peaked, and all of our favorite warm-weather, long-day fruits and vegetables can be found at the farmers market. Tomatoes, eggplants, corn, stone fruits, early apples, and grapes are ripe and plentiful. But nothing symbolizes the height of the summer season as well as watermelons.

Melons are any thick-rinded sweet-fleshed fruits in the cucurbit family. Cucurbitaceae includes other familiar plants cultivated for edible fruits such as pumpkin, summer squash and cucumber. Melons fall into two categories: muskmelons and watermelons. Watermelons are botanically distinct, and belong to a different genus than other melons. They are native to Africa and have been cultivated there for thousands of years. Watermelons are said to have been brought to America directly from their center of origin by African slaves and European colonists. By the early 1600s, both Native Americans and White settlers cultivated watermelons in Massachusetts. Most commercially available melons eaten today are descended from a variety developed in the United States in the 1940s but at the farmers market you can also find some fantastic heirloom varieties.

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, you’ll find both picnic (larger than 15 pounds) and icebox (smaller than 15 pounds) watermelons. Flesh colors range from deep red to light yellow, and skins are adorned with everything from zebra-like stripes to “Moon and Stars” (the name of one variety).

What to look for in the perfect melon:
~ A pale yellow ground-spot where the fruit has been touching the soil while ripening on the vine
~ A very hollow sound when you slap it
~ Dull-ish skin – super-shiny skin means the fruit is immature