The early crop of watermelons are in and they are very good. The combination of dry cool weather during the past two months and good rains until late last year must have resulted in a bumper crop of melons that are hitting the markets earlier than usual. Watermelons are the perfect hot weather treat – sweet and thirst quenching. A watermelon is approximately 92% water and 8% sugar.
A native to Africa, melons have spread to most tropical countries. In the Philippines, the typical season is from March to July or during the hottest months of the year. Bulacan, Pampanga and Pangasinan grow the bulk of the watermelons that make it into Manila. If you look carefully on a drive north on the expressway, you can sometimes see huge fields planted with watermelon and the fruit sitting on the ground like huge bowling balls.
To choose a watermelon, the skin should be a deep dark green and the skin a bit waxy in feel. If a stem is attached it is best that it is brown and shriveled as this is a sign the fruit has ripened on the plant. Watermelons don’t ripen further after they are harvested, they just get more juicy. People also try to judge weight to size… the heavier the better. Some go further to tap the fruit to see if it sounds dense but I haven’t perfected that method. I say find a reliable vendor, have them slice open a melon and if it is good buy it. Store a whole fruit unrefrigerated for up to 7 days after harvest. Cut watermelon should be refrigerated. If you have ever eaten a watermelon where the seeds have some airspace from the flesh, that is a sign that the melon is too old and not ideal eating. Chuck it.
I prefer watermelon chilled and served in generous slices for dessert or as a snack. I also make watermelon shakes by putting cut-up fruit in a blender together with some sugar syrup and a spritz of lemon and blend it all together at high speed. I include the seeds as they provide texture and are probably good for your intestinal tract. For those who need visuals and detailed instructions, please go to recipe section and look for the Pakwan Shake recipe. Watermelon is also increasingly used in lunch salads paired with substantial greens (like baby arugula) and other ingredients.
The watermelons pictured in this post cost P120 for a medium melon, which could easily serve 12 adults. There is this roadside fruit stand in Bonifacio (maybe 100 meters from the Essensa condominium) that seems to do a thriving business in pakwan which they say comes all the way from Iloilo (ah, maybe that explains why they are so ahead of normal season). Alternatively, the same quality of melons can be had in Divisoria for about P90-100 per melon. If you want to amuse yourself and your kids, try eating a large slice of watermelon without using your hands…totally harmless fun.