Personal Watermelons or Community Watermelons? Eventually, All of the Above.

Watermelon from Casey County, Kentucky

Watermelon from Casey County, Kentucky

My watermelon-picking percentage for this summer is about 33 percent. About one third of the melons I have selected have been red, ripe but not too ripe, juicy, and fully delicious. The best melons were two small seeded Sugar Baby melons grown in Casey County and sold at the Johnson Brothers stand in the Lexington Farmers Market -- and then last week, there were no more seeded Sugar Babies to be had.

Instead, I got some new terminology. For the first time, I heard a grower asking a customer, "Are you interested in a personal melon?" So I learned a term I probably have helped produce. I'm part of the demographic that has driven farmers toward ever smaller melons, away from the 50-pound ovals that used to put the exclamation point on family dinners under the shade trees in late summer.

Now it would be rare for me to (a) have room in the refrigerator, and (b) assemble the cousins/neighbors/aunts/visitors needed to make best use of a big-flavored big melon. So breeders and growers have responded to people like me by growing seedless sweet orbs that approach single serving size. Good - except that these melons, while sweet, often lack the distinctive taste of watermelon.

I have to admit that sweetness, by itself, partially redeems most of my picking failures. Even the worst, with their pale, pithy, and unappealing flesh, have been somewhat refreshing on this summer's brutally hot days.

I do miss having watermelon-tasting watermelons, though. My unscientific conclusion: So far, that shy watermelon taste is unwilling to make an appearance without watermelon seeds, and is probably more likely to show up in community-sized melons instead of personal melons. I expect this situation will change over time, in two ways: breeders will find ways to coax more flavor into personal melons, and some growers will return to production of the heritage types of flavorful, larger melons.

Here is one hurdle. Personal melons produce more melon pounds per acre, according to Watermelons Get Small, Severson's report on her visit to an experimental field of watermelons in Hope, Arkansas:

For farmers, much of the appeal of the smaller varieties is simple economics. Plant an Arkansas acre with big watermelons and you might get 40,000 pounds. An acre of personal melons will yield 65,000 to 80,000 pounds...

Sigh. Back to the challenge of picking well from what is available. Because of my pitiful picking average for the summer, I hoped for insights from a video in which New York Times food writer Kim Severson gets advice from a melon farmer about how to pick 'em --except the advice does not pan out. Good for Severson for sharing the whole truth with us. Picking melons right now is a gamble, and the buyer usually loses - though the result is still edible. One tip from the video that may help at any farmers' market: when insects have nibbled at sections of the watermelon hull, the melon may be ripe. It may also be TOO ripe, but it's less likely to be immature.

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 64.