While you can buy watermelons year-round, it’s just not a good idea to purchase a melon in the winter. Chances are, these melons are the tail-end of a second-field crop from Central America and will look and taste like pink cucumber. I’ve gotten decent melons at the tail end of May, and I’ve even had a few November melons from the Missouri boot heel that were really good, but as a general rule, melon season in the American South corresponds quite neatly with our hurricane season, which runs from June through September, with August the peak month. It’s also not a good idea to buy seedless watermelons because watermelon seeds release an enzyme that promotes the ripening process. You’ll find people who’ll tell you a seedless watermelon can taste just as good as one with seeds, but in my personal experience this simply does not hold true.
Buy a watermelon that is proportionate; do not get one that is narrow at one end, because the smaller end will be unripe; the stem and flower scab should both be in the very center of their respective ends of the fruit. Another good sign of a ripe watermelon is a yellow bottom, sure evidence that it has ripened on the ground. When it comes to thumping a watermelon, don’t thump it: knock on it; take your knuckles and rap on it like you would a door. Listen for a hollow sound, not a tight sound. It should be firm and heavy for its size.
Watermelon Salad with Bacon and Feta
Fry or broil lean bacon until crisp. Season with freshly-ground black pepper, break into pieces and sprinkle over chilled, cubed watermelon along with pieces of feta (you can also use a blue cheese for this). Sliced chilled cucumbers are a nice option. A little fresh lime adds zest to the flavors.
For each quart cubed melon, add one cup sliced strawberries or pineapple, lime juice to taste), 12 ounces light rum, 1 tablespoon sugar and a light sprinkling of salt. Stir and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. No bridal luncheon should be without these.
While working in a Florida restaurant, I kept having trouble ordering a yellow-meated watermelon from my produce guy. He said he could never find one, even though I’d seen them in local markets. Finally it came out that with my heavy hill country Mississippi accent he thought I was ordering a melon from some mythical locale in California: “Jala Meadad”. He even wrote it down that way on his order forms. While yellow meated watermelons aren’t widely known, early texts written by European botanists have been uncovered depicting images and descriptions of watermelons of various shapes and sizes as well as varying flesh colors of red, white, yellow and orange. In fact, the original watermelon that grew wild in South Africa was most likely a yellow or white flesh variety, but lacked the high sugar levels of today’s watermelons.
Here in the Deep South the yellow meated season is very short; you’ll rarely find them marketed before July or after August, and you’ll almost never find them sold in supermarkets, usually only at roadside produce stands. Yellow watermelons can vary greatly in size, shape and color; the most common variety here in Mississippi has broad dark green stripes and narrow light green ones, though over in Clay County, Alabama, where they have the Clay County Yellow Meated Watermelon Festival, the eponymous variety is an almost uniform light green. The flesh can range from pale yellow to deep gold and may contain large brownish black seeds or be completely seedless. While their succulent and crisp texture is comparable to other standard red watermelons, their flavor is usually much sweeter offering notes of honey and apricot.