Friday, October 5, 2007

Watermelons: Moon and Stars and a Supernova

In case you were wondering what happens to a watermelon deferred, I have an answer for you: It explodes. Happily, this watermelon was not one of my own precious few but a large, torpedo-shaped object I had bought from a Pennsylvania farm whose melons have pleased me in the past. I wanted to compare its flavor to those of the watermelons I grew in the garden, but I never had the chance.

I left it on the kitchen counter for nearly a week, having no extra room in the refrigerator for its bulk. This may have been ill-advised, but I have done such things before. I left my first Moon and Stars watermelon out there for about ten days before cutting into the thing, and it looked and tasted just fine, as firm as ever, though not nearly as sugary as my Crimson Sweets. Although the Moon and Stars melon was on the small side (around ten pounds, the size of a small bowling ball), its seeds were larger than any others I had seen before. Around the seeds, an air pocket had formed, dividing the inner and outer parts of the pale-pink flesh. To tell the truth, it tasted somewhat saccharine: mildly sweet at the outset, and with a lingering aftertaste.

At any rate, this farm watermelon I brought home promised at least a week of good eating, and I was looking forward to making the first chop into its thick, strong rind and hearing the glacial crack of ripe watermelon innards cleanly splitting apart. Then, sometime last night, the unthinkable happened: a gushing fountain of liquid exploded from inside the great vessel, engulfing the countertop and a good portion of the kitchen floor. Now that the initial mess has been cleared out of its way, the watermelon is still bubbling dribbles of liquid from a hole in its middle.

When I tried to lift it, the rind gave way as if it were made of a thin layer of rubber. It is a fearsome thing, living and breathing with—what? Bacteria or yeast that filtered in through a dent in the rind, I suppose. It is fermenting. This once-solid mass has become an unreliable container of watermelon-flavored booze. When I suggested this to my mother (who has an equal liking for wine and watermelons), she offered to drink it. I actually wish I could offer it up, but not knowing for certain what organism or process caused this reaction, I worry about whether the liquid would be safe to drink. Wasting such an enormous item of food seems like a terrible thing to do, but sadly, this one will have to go into the trash before the rind itself gives way and I have an actual watermelon supernova on my hands.

Meanwhile, two more Moon and Stars watermelons wait in the garden. My surprise melon, the one that hid from me for at least a month before I saw it hiding among the leaves of a coreopsis plant, has expanded impressively. I am quite sure it has grown larger than any other melon I have harvested. It might be somewhere around sixteen or eighteen pounds now. The other Moon and Stars melon is a softball-sized upstart that may not have the chance to grow to maturity.

I am carefully watching the tendril closest to the larger melon. When the tendril browns, I will pick the melon . . . unless it never does turn brown. I picked its sister melon prematurely, because it came off its vine while I was removing the ailing vines of the already-harvested Crimson Sweets. Although it seemed plenty ripe when I finally hacked into it, the flavor, as I mentioned, was not the best. Perhaps the Crimson Sweets spoiled me for other melons, or perhaps another week on the vine would have made an improvement. I don’t know. I can only watch, wait, and try to judge the right time to haul the thing home before it, too, explodes in a sticky miasma of sweet decay.