In search of the store's perfect watermelon

Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't make assumptions. Don't judge a person by looks alone. We are taught many times this same lesson: you can't tell what's inside by looking at the outside. And yet there's one situation in life where we are forced to make decisions based on the outside alone. In this situation, we must assess the contents based on the "cover." That situation is when buying fruit.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't make assumptions. Don't judge a person by looks alone. We are taught many times this same lesson: you can't tell what's inside by looking at the outside.

And yet there's one situation in life where we are forced to make decisions based on the outside alone. In this situation, we must assess the contents based on the "cover." That situation is when buying fruit.

Dilemma: there is a box full of watermelons at the store. They look green and smooth. You really want to buy one, because watermelon is such a refreshing, sweet treat on a hot summer day. And they cost $4.99 each.

Who wants to waste $4.99 on a watermelon that isn't ripe? And yet you can't slash into one to find out ... not until you get home, that is. It is so disappointing to get home, slash the kitchen knife into the watermelon flesh, only to find the fruit inside is pink, dry and tasteless. Or worse: that the beautiful-on-the-outside watermelon has a bright red color inside, but it's too red and mushy it's over-ripe.

And so you face that box of watermelons at the store, in search of the perfect one. Although you can't use the sense of taste, you can use the other four senses. First, you use the sense of sight. How do they look? Which one is a lovely dark green? Does that mean it's dark red inside? They are heavy to lift, but you lift them anyway because they may be dark green on one side, but bruised/lighter on the other side. Or is that just because one side was lying on the ground instead of basking in the sun in the field?

The sense of hearing is rather useless in choosing a watermelon, although I have seen people shake, and listen, to smaller pieces of fruit to listen to whether the fruit is hollow, or perhaps whether they can hear the seeds shaking around on the inside. But a watermelon is too big for me to hold up to my ear, and I doubt it would say much, anyway.

As I lift the watermelon to look at its underside, I use my sense of touch. I wonder about its weight. Is a heavier watermelon a better deal? They all cost $4.99, so do I get more for my money because it's heavier? Or maybe the bigger ones just seem heavier. Is heavier necessarily better in terms of taste?

Still using the sense of touch, I feel the watermelon's skin in my hands. Most are shiny and smooth. Some are a bit rough. Does that make a difference in taste? Is there a soft spot which indicates over-ripeness or bruising?

So now I have used sight, touch, and possibly hearing. I can't use taste. And there's one sense left: smell. I have seen people at the store smelling fruit. I've been told that when fruit is ripe, you will be able to smell the ripeness. I have tried smelling watermelons, but my sense of smell is not acute enough to make this work for me. Besides, lifting a watermelon to my nose is like lifting weights, and bending over to smell watermelons makes one look ridiculous.

I wish I had X-ray vision to probe the secrets of that smooth green exterior. I wish I could communicate with the watermelon some extra-sensory perception so that the best watermelon would call out to me: I'm ripe! I'm the best! Pick me and you will not regret it!

But I don't have this ability. And so, when all else fails, I rely on luck, put a watermelon in my shopping cart, and hope for the best.

NOTE: After reading this column, my husband said everyone knows that to determine whether a watermelon is ripe, you simple knock on it and if it sounds hollow, it is ripe. So I guess the sense of hearing is not useless at all. Oh well; I'm from New Jersey and I used to think watermelons grow on trees.