Mark Twain, who famously adored watermelon, described it as the “chief of the world’s luxuries…when one has tasted it, he knows what angels eat.” In in the summer, we want nothing more for dessert than watermelon, which contains 92 percent water.
While we may think of it as the quintessential American fruit, watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) are enjoyed worldwide. They are natives of Africa. The ancient Egyptians were cultivating them in the Nile River Valley at least by 2,000 BCE; Paintings of enormous and unmistakable watermelons have been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs. Watermelons seem to have arrived in Europe in the eighth century with the invading Moors, who crossed Africa, presumably picking up watermelons en route, on their way to conquer Portugal and Spain. The melons didn’t have much luck in points farther north, such as England and northern Europe, unless one was rich enough to have a greenhouse. The climate was just too chilly for watermelons–but they were wildly successful in the steamier New World.
Watermelons were introduced to North America by the Spaniards, and promptly outran them, the seeds passing from native tribe to native tribe faster than the proverbial hot potato. They were soon flourishing in the Rio Grande Valley, in Georgia and Florida, and throughout the American Southwest. Jesuit missionary Pere Marquette found watermelons growing along the shores of the Mississippi River in 1673; and by 1732, a tourist in colonial Virginia mentioned luscious watermelons “green and bigg as a Pumpin.”
Nowadays, they grown in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes. People debate endlessly about whether they are better with or without seeds (See Where Did All The Watermelon Seeds Go?). But mostly, we just slice and eat them, maybe with a little salt or feta, if we want to get fancy.
Take a break and check out our gallery of watermelon being enjoyed around the world from our Your Shot photo community.