Food News

Old Man Wisdom on How to Pick a Watermelon

Holland, Texas, (no relation to Derek) is a tiny town just a little east of the smack dab middle of our slightly asymmetrical state. It's a patch of dirt and old buildings with a speed zone on Highway 95 south of Waco. For a decade or so I've blazed a regular trail through it (one speeding ticket to show) and for the past few years there's been a watermelon purveyor on the side of the road next to an abandoned shack. They sell veggies, but most noticeably watermelons by the truckload. Occasionally they have canned goods, like the pickled jalapeños last week.

Don and Georgia Marshall retired a few years ago and set up this farm stand to earn a little extra spending money. Once a week they drive down to the town of Dilley in South Texas (Frio County) to pick up watermelons. This early in the season, South Texas watermelons are ready to harvest, but not yet in Central Texas.

Looking for sage farm advice, I asked Mr. Marshall how to choose a good watermelon.

He snapped at me from his lawn chair, "You cain't!"

What's that?

"You cain't pick a good one. There's no way to tell because there are too many different kinds," Marshall said, all businesslike and a little grumpy.

I think he's sort of pulling my chain, or has a slight onery disposition. Mrs. Marshall's smile indicates the latter.

He eventually gets up and slowly walks over to the watermelon table and explains a bit about the history of watermelons, how the older generation only wants black diamonds with the seeds, because to them watermelons should have seeds. But, Texas A&M developed a seedless watermelon and that's what the younger generation wants now.

Basically, he told me, it's all about the sound and feel when you slap a watermelon -- it should sound hollow inside. He had one watermelon separated from the others, like it was sitting in time out, because it sounded thick and solid when slapped.

We then all lightly slapped each melon and listened closely.

Marshall also looks for a green stem because it indicates it was recently plucked from the vine.

Marshall told me that last year he got a crop of orange meat watermelons that were some of the best he'd ever had. A couple from Dallas drives through about once a week and bought one of the orange meat and now they make a point to pick some up every time they drive through -- although he hasn't seen any of the orange meat yet this season.

Or, maybe he's pulling my chain. I cain't tell.

I also talked to a produce manager at Central Market about picking out watermelons. Marty Mika has several criteria: dark green, a yellow side which indicates the melon has been sitting in the field longer allowing the sun to bring out the sugar and also a brown stem as opposed to the green stem.

When asked about a brown stem, Mika said it's indicative that the melon has had more time in the sun to get sweeter.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.