With summer in full bloom and melons proliferating on the vines and in the supermarkets, maybe now is not the best time to confess that I grew up a melon hater.
Mostly, it was watermelon I detested. It was not the flavor that turned me off, but the messy, sticky drippiness of eating it that I found unpleasant. Because eating watermelon, in my family, often occurred outdoors at a picnic or on the back steps of my gramma and grampa’s farmhouse, eating watermelon included batting away interested flying insects and stepping on ants attracted to the pools of sweet water around our toes.
Flying insects and ants are also on my list of things I do not love.
Once upon a time, watermelon was also loaded with small black seeds. Scientists had not yet come up with the seedless variety. So, in addition to fighting bugs, sticky wrists and juice-dampened shirts, eating watermelon meant nibbling around the seeds and spitting them out.
Occasionally, a seed-spitting contest would pop up amongst my cousins and my sisters and me, making the grossness of eating this snack worthwhile. I never mastered the skill to win the contest, but learning to spit with the wind is certainly a lifelong lesson to have gleaned from the experience.
So why did I take on the undesirable task of eating watermelon? It was grown in my grampa’s garden with love, and sliced and distributed with such pride, I knew instinctively that one did not say “No thank you,” to this treat. Enduring a few minutes of pink liquid streaming down my chin and onto my favorite shirt was a necessity.
I had no idea, of course, that one day I would come to appreciate the positive aspects of the watermelon.
One cup of melon balls contains 18 percent of the Required Daily Value (RDV) of vitamin A, and 21 percent of the RDV for vitamin C. It is a fat-free snack of only 46 calories, low in sodium, and is a source of potassium. On the down side, this one cup does contain 10 grams of sugar — but let me remind you, it is naturally occurring sugar, not added. Despite the high water content, watermelon is actually a source of fiber, too.
I count it as a plus that the seedless variety seems to be predominant these days.
The other melon that crossed my palms with slobber — but much less so — was the fruit my Gramma referred to as a muskmelon. Its thick, webbed green and tan exterior concealed a pale orange flesh. Its flavor was mild and the scent was a distinctive… musk. It was that earthy smell that is not at all bad, but one that might raise the suspicions of a 10-year-old. Hard to believe now, but I was opposed to unfamiliarly colored foods or flavors in my early years of life. Maroon colored beets, orange melons, and yellow squashes were high on my list of unacceptable foods.
I would reluctantly accept the wedge of muskmelon from Gramma, thankful only that most of the juice stayed in my mouth, not my hands. Plus, the seeds of the muskmelon were neatly caught up in a central mass of fiber, not embedded in the flesh.
What I grew up calling muskmelon is more commonly known as the cantaloupe. Gramma’s melons had more pronounced ridges running from tip to tip, as I recall, than what I usually find in the stores today. It turns out that all muskmelons are cantaloupes; but not all cantaloupes are muskmelons. (Secretly, I found muskmelon to be tasty, but would never admit it at the time.)
Watermelon does have a plus, one that I was always able to appreciate. A good one is delicious. That natural sugar pops to the top of the taste buds, and an ice cold slice is nearly akin to eating a frozen popsicle. There is a little crunch (followed by the unavoidable slosh of water from the corners of the mouth) and a hint of exotic perfume lingering on the tongue. It is not a bad sensation, at all.
Eventually, I came to love the various melons that tumble from the grocer’s shelves this time of year. Still, I recommend having plenty of paper towels nearby for enjoying the classic presentation of fat watermelon wedges.
And when life gives you watermelons, make watermelon mojitos.