Mighty Fine Right Off The Vine- The Lone Star State ranks third in watermelon production in the United States. Watermelons can be purchased in almost every town in East Texas, either from a roadside fruit and vegetable stand or from the back of a peddler’s pick up. The fruit of the Pineywoods is a summer obsession East Texans can’t go without.
With over 42,000 acres of Texas planted with watermelons in over 100 counties, statewide economic impacts exceed $160 million. The melon is the state’s largest annual horticultural crop. Watermelons are produced commercially in over 40 percent Texas counties and rural areas.
While big-time growers and shippers concentrate on coordinating sales into large metro areas and other states, roadside melons come from smaller acreage and part-time farmers. Most East Texans have eaten melons grown either in their own backyard, or from a neighbor’s or family members garden. These small watermelon patches yield some of the sweetest watermelons, and give a new meaning to “reaping the fruits of your labor.”
East Texans have developed several ways to choose a proper melon over the years. Some suggest selecting a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is heavy for its size. Others believe the best way to choose a melon is to examine the underside in search for a yellow spot. The yellow spot lets pickers know if the melon has sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. But there are also those who pick out a melon based on a thump or slap. If thumping or slapping a melon yields a deep sound the melon is ready. If thumping or slapping a melon gives way to a flat sound from the surface leave the melon on the vine, or with its peddler, because it’s not quite ripe.
Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of vitamin B-6 as well. The fruit is naturally low in total fat, saturated fat, as well as cholesterol. Watermelons have higher concentrations of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. Lycopene has been considered a natural cancer combatant, is a powerful antioxidant.
Everyone eats their watermelons in their own special way. Some slice it up into individual half-moon servings and hand it out. Some scoop the red innards out of the green rind and into a bowl. Some even go to great lengths sculpt the melon into a edible work of art. In the Pineywoods the art of eating a melon is quite simple—Spilt it and pass out forks! Many East Texans sprinkle salt on their watermelon for that sweet and salty taste.
Vodka soaked watermelon is an Pineywoods party favor. The next time you are planning to entertain, or are asked to bring a dessert to a party serve a real treat by soaking a melon in vodka. There are only two key ingredients: one watermelon and vodka (Your favorite brand). Soaking the melon is simple. Allow the melon to come to rest and its most flat surface. Cut a cork out of the top, large enough for the mouth of the vodka bottle to fit in to. Then screw the vodka bottle into the hole, allowing the vodka to soak the inside of the melon. This process can take up to an hour depending on the size of the melon. When the vodka is no longer soaking into the melon, or has all soaked into the melon remove the bottle and replace the cork. For best results refrigerate, or ice down the melon in a cooler for approximately 24 hours. Then slice and serve as usual.
Watermelons are also a part of East Texas folklore. There isn’t an East Texan around that doesn’t know better than to swallow a watermelon seed. Anyone who grew up in East Texas has heard the old wives tale about what happens when you swallow one of the black tear shaped-seeds. The old saying goes, “If you swallow the seeds watermelons will grow in your stomach.” Spitting is generally considered a nasty habit, but quite acceptable while eating watermelons. Seed spitting contests regularly break out when a watermelon is split.
If you have a hankering for a good watermelon buy one from a peddler or an farmeres market in East Texas. Support part-time farmers who grow watermelons for pleasure and as part of an East Texas past time. Fresh farmer’s market produce can also be found throughout East Texas. The East Txeas State Fair Farmer’s Market will be open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 7:00am until 1:00pm. The small town farmer offers the best regional fruits, vegetables, honey, fresh eggs, flowers, and much more!