Ode to Watermelon {and Julia}

My favorite food in the world is Watermelon, and since today is my birthday, I would like to eat only my favorite foods. Since I woke up in a home without watermelon, I had to ask my favorite husband to make a run up to the local Trade Fair to bring me back a prize melon. {What? It's not like I asked him to bring me back an edelweiss}.

I've had three decades to build my watermelon expertise, so I took the liberty of sending him off with a few tips for picking the perfect one, which turned into an essay, which became the perfect opportunity to take the advice of writing coach Don Fry and adopt the voice of someone I admire as a writing exercise. I think it’s a nifty little exercise, and a perfect opportunity to pretend that I’m Julia Child, preparing my dear Paul (or a studio audience) to pick me the perfect birthday watermelon.

In honor of my birthday, and the pending release of the film Julie & Julia, I’ve “donned” the voice of Julia here for you:

{How to Carve A Watermelon}

Watermelon is the perfect summer food. You know in the middle of the summer I just love to serve my guests, and my husband, the most perfectly juicy watermelon. I hate to think that not everyone knows how to pick just the right watermelon. I’ve become an expert in picking watermelon, and I’m going to share my secrets with you. To pick a watermelon in its prime, you must first thump the outside of the melon firmly, listening for a distinct thud, which sounds as if the melon is hollow. This thud will tell you that it is filled with wonderful juices! Another marvelous way to tell if it is ripe is to swing it up and down in your arms like a baby. It should feel very heavy, which is another way to know that it is filled with scrumptious liquid.

When you get your melon home, you must first carefully wash the outside. You can never dismiss the many hands that have handled the fruit. Then, place the melon in the center of a sturdy wooden board and, using your longest chef’s knife, dig the point of the knife into the center of the flesh and rock back and forth until you split the melon wide open. If the melon is perfectly ripe, you should hear a crack, like the splitting of a tree branch in the quiet woods. This is a very good sign.

Inside, you should find firm pink flesh, and many little black and some smaller white seeds, which can easily be removed with a fork. I just ignore them and eat them right along with the melon. They won’t hurt and they certainly won’t cause a watermelon to grow in your belly (ha ha ha). Of course you want to taste it, and make sure it’s just exactly right. If you approve, slice it any way you like, and bring it to the table on a little tray for your guests. With it you could certainly serve a fine bottle of chilled, crisp rose.

That’s all for today. This is Julia Child, Bon Apetit!

To write this, I used my best “memory” of Julia Child but as I finished, I realized that although I’ve read her biography and often heard her imitated, I had never watched her show. Thankfully, YouTube has many clips of Julia at her best, and I thought this one, Chafing Dish Dinner, was quite a dandy. If you’re having trouble hearing her voice while you read, watch this first, then go back and re-read it (I had fun reading this to AndrĂ¡s aloud in my best Julia imitation)

As I said at the beginning, I think this is quite a nifty little writing exercise, and I really agree with myself. I hope Julia would too.


E L said...

Nice piece.

Any thoughts on seedless vs. traditional w-melons? I have bought the smaller seedless ones (really, they're not seedless, though, the seeds are just smaller, white and softer) and found them lacking in flavor.

I believe the long, torpedo-shaped w-melons have better flavor vs. the newer-fangled rounder, smaller "seedless". Thoughts?

And then there's this:

Anjee said...

Love it..and I love watermelon! If you ask me what cravings I have...watermelon is on the top of the list. I had the sweetest most delicious melon this 4th of July and it so happened to be seedless. It was like eating cake! FYI...I was curious if watermelons were nutritious as well as delicious..and come to find out they are! Great source of potassium! Who knew!

jenny said...

"a few drops of cognac never hurt anything" - Julia

She was so funny! Thanks for this charming entry!! I too love watermelon—it reminds me of home, picnic tables and spittin the seeds on the ground!

Edible Living said...

I used to be hard and fast about "real" watermelons, with seeds, mostly because like Jenny said, spitting them is half of the fun. But this year I've found the seedless ones are just as good, so I'm changing my tune. I tried to grow watermelon the last two years, but since Andras and I go through about one a week, I could never keep up. And it's hard to beat the $6.98 a watermelon price tag in Queens!

Anjee, you're right, watermelon is ripe with incredible benefits and nutrients. My favorite? Lycopene, the same potent carotenoid antioxidant that's in tomatoes.

birch said...

Here's an ode from Mark Twain:
"I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat
rotundity among pumpkin vines and "simblins"; I know how to tell when it is ripe without "plugging" it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can
see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there."

Dorie said...

Sarah, this is wonderful. You've got so many perfect 'Julia words' in the story, including 'dismiss'.

I'm sorry I missed your birthday --I bet it was delicious. xoDorie

Kim said...

I'm a huge fan of watermelon. A few summers ago someone brought a watermelon salad to a party and it changed my life!

Watermelon (cut into nice chunks)
Feta cheese (I like goat feta)
Olive Oil
Fresh chopped mint
(You can also add sliced red onion and balsamic vinegar)

It's a great mix of salty, sweet and fresh.

Kim (Edible/Usable - www.edibleusable.com)

Flash said...

Good article.

-- another huge watermelon fan

PS: thanks to Kim (comments) for the recipe, too.

Donald K. Fry said...


You got Julia's voice just as Ms. Streep got the whole Julia thing. I knew Julia quite well, and I think she would have liked your piece. Julie had a knack, which you caught, of combining precision with enthusiasm. Keep up the good writing. Don

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.