Back in the day, I used to work in the produce department at a local Sam’s Club. I stocked food and had the pleasure of dealing with dumbass customers which could be a post all on its own. It’s been awhile since I worked there so I don’t have that fresh, fiery hatred to rant about it as if I had just experienced it. One of the things I would be asked on a regular basis was, “How do you know what watermelon is good?” or “How do you pick out a good watermelon?” And, dammit, that question would piss me off more than nearly anything else ever, besides asking me for a product that they’re standing in front of. So how do you pick out a watermelon?
“How to Pick a Watermelon”
First off, I’m not a watermelon lover by any means, so me being constantly asked about how to pick out a “good watermelon” was ridiculous from the start: there are no good watermelons because they all taste like shit. It’s like asking me to pick out a good country song: there are no good country songs. The same goes for coleslaw. I also hate cantaloupes and any other sort of “melony” melons. It must be a DNA issue with me or something because I have no control over it. When customers would ask me about “the good watermelons” I’d usually tell them that I don’t even like watermelons so I didn’t know how to “pick one out” and usually suggested that they just randomly grab one. They didn’t like that advice.
Luckily some of the more zealous customers would tell me, matter-of-factly, how to pick out a “good watermelon.”
Some told me to look for wide stripes on them! Watermelons have dark and light green stripes on them (in case you’ve never seen one), and the ones with the wider stripes are “gooder” apparently. How the stripes determine the flavor profile of the melon I don’t know, but that’s what makes a good one. Some other people would say to look for a spot where it lay on the ground because it means the melon is ripe. Nevermind the fact that they all have a spot because melons, in fact, grow on the goddamn ground. Some people would say to look for a little stem at the end that would pull off easily, or something like that. Others would pick the damn melons up, put their ear on them, and knock on them like it was a fucking door. I tried this myself and they all sound the same and I never learned what “sound” a “good watermelon” makes as opposed to a “bad watermelon.” I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few of these “tried and true” methods for determining what makes a watermelon “good” or “bad” but whatever. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this post anyways…
Lightly researching on the internet (because everything on the internet is true), gave some even more ridiculous methods for finding a “good” watermelon. One person insisted on the melon having “straight green lines” and “the more perfect the better.” The same person also recommended that the scar where the flower falls off should be small, and that this “guarantees a perfectly sweet and rupe [sic] watermelon (;” Another person suggested that, as direct advice from a farmer (!!!), that the prospective watermelon pickers look for the location of a bee sting on the melon, given away by a tiny bit of juice oozing out husk. Once again, this all but guarantees that the watermelon is decent. And just to cap it off with some really fucked up nonsense, another person described an old wives tale about putting a broom straw on top of a melon, and if this straw spins, the watermelon is ripe. At least this person didn’t seem to take the technique too seriously, by adding “…entertaining at least.”
Does Any of That Work?
As stated, I’m not a watermelon expert, but I’m pretty damn skeptical of these methods mostly because they trigger my “sounds like bullshit” alarm. Even though a farmer (who is expected to be an expert) suggested something about bee stings, I know enough about bees, or have enough questions about bees and their habits that should undermine that theory. Do bees even eat watermelons? If they do, why would they sting the melons? How do bees know the melon is ripe? Has anyone actually compared a “bee stinged” watermelon to a non-bee melon and compared the taste profile? I doubt it. The theory seems on shaky ground, and just doesn’t seem to make plausible sense. I mean I might be wrong, but it sounds fishy from the start.
What about stripes on the melon? Once again I’m skeptical because there are natural variations in all fruits, vegetables, and meats. It’s a bad analogy, but it’s like saying people with black hair lie a lot, or that blondes are more likely to get cancer. I’m just skeptical that the damn stripes or the “greenness” of the melon really has any correlation with how yummy the melon is. Once again, I might be wrong, but shit like this should be so easily testable that it should be common knowledge by now. Get a green melon, or a “straight striped” melon, and eat away. Are they better, or not? Do some fucking science people.
Ooo, or what about the straw from the broom? Someone please tell me how the melon’s interior, by being sweet, yummy, and tasty can influence a piece of straw to rotate? Do the sugar molecules move in such a way that produces a magnetic field that somehow interacts with the tiny amount of iron in the piece of straw which causes it to rotate? Maybe it does! Or maybe that theory is just some silly bullshit that someone made up?
At the very least, given these ideas might actually work in selecting a melon, no one is this picky when shopping for other fruits, vegetables, and meats. With apples, you check to make sure they’re not rotten, and you buy them. Lettuce? Is it green or brown? Brownish lettuce is starting to rot, and green is fresher (unless the lettuce is naturally brown). Duh. Squishy tomatoes are about to go bad, and potatoes are obvious as fuck due to the horrid smell they emit. No one browses through package after package of ground beef looking for “the good one”; you just grab one that isn’t a nasty brown color and go about your day. But melons, NO! Somehow melons are the single thing in the produce department that takes 5 to 10 minutes to find the “the good one.” Get the hell out of here…
The Right Way?
I found a website that seemed to give some decent tips at finding a “good” melon, or as they called it, a “ripe” melon. First off, a ripe melon is a different thing than a “good” one, and already seemed to be off on an objective footing. Secondly, the things to look for actually make some sense in an obvious way. Suggested traits to look for are a firm husk with no soft spots, a yellow spot where it laid on the ground (as opposed to a whitish spot), the melon should feel heavy, and the melon should sound hollow. These are boring things to look for, but they don’t send my “bullshit” alarm into insane mode because they make logical sense. We look for firm fruit and vegetables all the time, and it’s almost obvious to realize a soft watermelon is going to be nasty to eat. At first I was confused about the spot, but if it starts off as a white spot and becomes yellow as the melon ripens, well, that makes sense then. It’s like saying a red tomato is ripe when a green one isn’t. Like no shit. And the heaviness? That is because a ripe watermelon has a lot of water in it (go figure) and water is pretty heavy. “Listening” to the watermelon also makes some sense as you’re simply listening for a hollow-sounding melon that doesn’t sound “dull.” This ensures that the melon isn’t filled with nasty, goopy, rotten pulp.
The point with these things is that they don’t tell you that the watermelon will taste amazing! No, they simply tell you that the watermelon isn’t fucking unripe or rotting. These traits are also fairly obvious as opposed to the witchcraft the customers all seemed to be doing. There isn’t a “good” watermelon sound that only you can hear properly; you’re just making sure it doesn’t sound dull and liquidy inside. Picking watermelons isn’t glamorous, and you don’t get to prance around like you’re the Watermelon God or something because you’re so damn good at it, so sorry. But considering the watermelon is a melon, these techniques are probably about as good as you can do without cutting it open and having a taste of the damn thing.
If I Ate Watermelons…
…I’d look for something akin to the paragraphs above: a watermelon that isn’t blatantly rotting, soft, or leaking all over the place. That’s it. If I go to buy a watermelon for someone else, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to walk up, and get a damn watermelon. It’ll take me twenty seconds at most to find one, and it’ll probably be almost as good as any other watermelon. And if it isn’t, well, it’s not like the watermelon eater I’m shopping for will know the other melons were tastier. It’ll be good enough.
In case you don’t know, Sam’s Club (and hence Walmart) is a fairly large company and they don’t source their melons from mom-and-pop farm operations; they most likely get melons in bulk from big-ass farms that mass produce them, just like every other thing they have in stock. My point here is these melons are planted in bulk, probably genetically modified, grown in bulk, and are all picked at the same time with little care given to ripeness or quality. There isn’t going to be much variance in the melons, because they’re not “hand picked” in that way that hand-picking implies. There probably is nothing better about watermelon A, B, or C; they’re probably nearly carbon-copies or clones of each other. And if I was buying a watermelon from a large supplier like that, well, I’m going to just randomly pick one because that’s about as good as you can do. The melons probably won’t be the best, and won’t vary much in flavor, so don’t waste your time.
If you’re at a farmers market or a local produce supplier, sure, you might be a bit more discerning with your melon picks, although you might be assured that the person picking them is themselves an expert and picked them at the prime of ripeness. This also gives you some reassurance that the melons will be “good” because someone who knows what’s going on with melons would’ve picked them. But if you’re at Walmart, or another large grocery store, just do what I’d tell a few customers to do in regards to finding a “good watermelon”: just fucking pick a melon because they’re most likely all the same.
Fun Fact: There’s a National Watermelon Promotion Board complete with a Watermelon Website. Yes, watermelons have their own lobbying group to influence the government.