Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and its popularity is partially due to the flavor and the amount of water it contains... it is 92-94% water, thus the name. Much of the epic history of the watermelon has been researched by Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, who has spent years assembling clues including ancient Hebrew texts, artifacts in Egyptian tombs, and medieval illustrations…. archaeologists discovered watermelon seeds, along with the remnants of other fruits, at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya. From Africa watermelons spread throughout countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships where they were stored to be used as a portable canteen for fresh water on journeys.
The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife... one was discovered in King Tut’s tomb. Pliny the elder, our favorite Greek historian, mentioned them as a refrigerant maxime, an extremely cooling food, in his first century encyclopedia, Historia Naturalis.
By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world's number one producer of watermelons. By the 13th century, they were known throughout Europe. Southern food historian, John Egerton, believes watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves as he states in his book, "Southern Food."
About 200-300 varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico, although there are about 50 varieties that are very popular. In selecting a watermelon, choose one that is heavy for its size and free of bruises with a yellow underside indicating it was vine ripened.
For a moment of inspiration is must be noted that watermelons are being reintroduced to sub-Sahara Africa as a source of water for those in drought stricken areas. It is indeed a miracle plant!
Photo: Giuseppe Recco's Still Life With Fruit (1634-1695).