The saying (and song), “You don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone” rings ever so true when I think about the produce from the area in Northeastern Oregon where I grew up at. As kids, sure we thought the stuff was good. Who didn’t like the Walla Walla sweet onions over a regular ole yellow one? Huckleberries were way worth the trek into the mountains for the chance to pick your fingers and tongue purple. And if we saw a roadside stand with Hermiston watermelons, it was an instant stop.
But the true delight of how good these things really were escaped my inexperienced palate. But as the years have aged and improved my palate and appreciation, I recognize and value such edible delights. So now anytime I go back home to visit my dad, if the season is on, the game is on. I’m going to stop, hunt down, and savor every last bite of the local produce I can.
Last summer was the first time in a very long time where I’ve been back to visit Dad during the prime growing season. Diane and I road tripped up, fly fishing and enjoying the small communities from Southern California to Northeastern Oregon. Eventually Diane would pick and eat her first ever fresh huckleberry. And then many more after that when we finally found a patch not picked over. And just about an hour before Dad’s we saw the sign for Hermiston.
Hermits at first glance doesn’t seem like much, just another farming town. But their watermelons are some of the best in the world. Not as big as the Texas melons, but the flavor and texture is incredible. We hunted down one of the key farms and stopped in to buy a few (or 9). As is the way of farmers and ranchers, you don’t just stop in, buy something, and go. You chat.
We ended up talking to man running the farming operations (the son-in-law to the original owner, of course) and one bit of advice he gave us was invaluable towards finding a good melon. “Don’t just thump it. Hold it and thump it.” He explained how you can feel the vibrations in your bottom hand to determine a good watermelon. Brilliant.
After loading up our 4-runner and heading down the road, we knew what we had, and we weren’t going to let it go.
Tips we learned on our trip on how to pick a watermelon:
1. Some people say to “thump it”, we say to “spank it”. The key is to hold the watermelon in your other hand when you spank it, so you can feel the vibrations through the watermelon. A tighter vibration should be reflective of a crisp texture while a mealy watermelon will have a much softer vibration.
2. Stemless is better, unless you grow it yourself and cut it when it’s fully ripe. If you bought it and it has a stem, it could mean that the watermelon has been picked too early, before it was ripe. Once a melon is picked from the field, it stops ripening. Without a stem, means that it was ripened on the vine on it’s own and the stem came off, leaving a slight “crater” on the end.
3. Heavy and Smooth Skin: the bugger should feel heavy, indicating lots of juicy goodness on the inside. And the skin should be a rich green color and smooth, meaning it had plenty of even and consistent sun bathing.
4. “Field Spot”- Yellow creamy color spot on the bottom means that it was resting on the ground and sweetened on the vine. This “field spot” should be a rich yellow color indicating it had plenty of time to lay in the field and sweeten in the sun. Avoid the green all over melons as they were usually picked too soon and didn’t get to ripen in the fields.
5. Buy from a Good Source: – Kind of a no-brainer, but not all watermelons are created equal. Better growers and growing areas will usually have the best stuff. Get to know your local growers (or what is in your local stores) to find out which ones you like the best.
And this article from New York Times talks about knuckle wraps. What? Let us know if you’ve knuckle wrapped and if it actually worked!
Any other tips we’re missing? Would love to learn more on how you pick your watermelons.