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H2O Melon
PING-PING ...... PONG-PONG. No, these are not names of imported panda zoo bears. These are the (approximate) sounds that a watermelon will make during a particular ripeness ritual.

Watermelons, which are actually more closely related to cucumbers than to other melons, probably originated on the African continent. Egyptian wall paintings of 5,000 years ago depicted these beefy melons. Although at that time these watermelon ancestors were probably much smaller than they are now.

From Egypt, they made their way along trading routes into Italy and Greece and also into China. The Chinese must have really taken a hankerin' to these melons because today they produce more than anybody else in the world. How about 40 billion pounds of watermelon! The U. S. ranks fourth at 4 billion pounds. (OK, to round out the top four we have#2 Turkey at about 8 billion pounds, and Iran tips the scales at 5 billion pounds for #3.)

Take your pick as to how the watermelon arrived on U.S. soil. They most assuredly came here as a by product of the slave trade, but there also is some evidence that the native Americans were growing them here way before anyone came a 'calling from elsewhere.

Watermelons are a successful commercial crop in many states. California is number one, but Florida, Texas, Georgia and Arizona rings up impressive production numbers also. During late winter and early spring we get a pretty good watermelon out of Mexico even.

Watermelon falls into two categories - seeded and seedless. Although many folks think seedless melons are new, they have actually been around for over 50 years, first appearing in 1948. Oh. They are not really seedless, it's just that their thin, white seeds are edible. For that matter the regular seeds are also edible, as the Chinese especially enjoy them roasted and salted.

There is not usually a flavor difference between the two just because one has seeds and one doesn't. You'll find good and not-so-good candidates under either heading. Seedless types tend to be a bit smaller in size than the traditional oblong picnic type melons. This has been one reason for their increasing popularity.

Organic growers are active in the watermelon game also. Currently the crop is coming from around Bakersfield, but local melons will soon be available. Due to a cool spring and in some areas, the local crop has been delayed.We get an "icebox" type, (so called because they are small enough to fit in the fridge) called a Mickey Lee and also an organic yellow melon called a Yellow Doll or Yellow Baby. VERY tasty offerings!

The yellow fleshed varieties often taste very similar to the red. But when the yellow are real good, they a have a more tropical flavor. Try a couple for the heck of it, as they make a good color contrast in a fruit salad.

So how do you pick a winning watermelon? Again, a taste test is the best test ... but short of that. Here's what I do. Pick one that has a yellowish and less greenish underside, that is where the melon came in contact to the ground. This tells me that it stayed on the vine longer and in turn, gained more sugar.

Another test I use involves violence! I cradle a candidate in my arm and slap it opened hand, seeking not a dull "PONG" but a resonant "PING". And sorry, if you just knuckle knock it while the melon is resting against others, you won't get a true reading.

Here's the deal. If a melon is mooshy, it will sound dead. If it is solid, it will sound firm and tight. Like they say - practice, practice, practice.
Given that, if a melon does have a yellow "belly" or underside, it will have a less firm textured flesh, but it will be sweeter. Saturday I picked a yellow bellied, "PONG" sounding watermelon and I got a very tasty melon. Another thing folks look for are "sugar spots" or scars on the rind. Supposedly, the more of these the better. Want more tips? A melon that lifts heavy for its size suggest lots of juicy juice!

Watermelons are much more nutritious than many people think. They have a decent dose of vitamins C and A, with some potassium, iron and calcium too. When it comes to enjoying this refreshing fruit, I'm an old fashioned watermelon man. I just sink my face into a hefty slice. But there are many more ways to serve watermelon Strained and blended, they make a natural tasting slushie drink, chunks can go into green salads or even make a salsa out of it. For more watermelon recipe ideas write to the National Watermelon Promotional Board, P.O. Box 140065, Orlando FL 32814-0065 or visit them on the web at http://www.watermelon.org.