|The ancestor of the modern watermelon is probably the desert melon found in the southern African Kalahari desert. Desert melons look a lot like the watermelon we know on the outside, but they look and taste a lot different on the inside. Desert melons are bland, hard to chew, and sometimes even bitter. The inside is yellowish-white and full of seeds; the opposite of what we know as watermelon today. |
Okay, despite the 'probably' and despite such an importantly commercial fruit really ought to be having more certainty than that, let's take this on trust.
|The first people to grow watermelons were ancient Egyptians around 4,000 years ago. Despite the bad taste, they grew watermelons for their high water content. Watermelons were a great source of fresh water during the summertime and they could be stored in a cool location for several months. |
A remarkably inefficient way to store water but, again, let's take this on trust.
|Watermelons were also found in the tombs of Pharaohs whom Egyptians believed would need hydration on their journey to the afterlife. |
Ditto with nobs on.
|Arabian traders brought watermelons to Europe and other regions of the Mediterranean in the 10th century |
Why? Are we short of water-containers too? In any case, weren't we importing half our grain from Egypt for a thousand years before this so how come we weren't stashing a few watermelons on board alongside?
|and it reached the far east to China around the same time as well. |
Fair do's, that must have been the Arabs.
|China quickly adopted watermelons and now became the largest producer of the fruit today, making up 67% of the total global production. |
Ain't that always the way?
|In Europe and the Mediterranean, watermelons were less popular until the 17th century. |
We were still using the old-fashioned ways of water-storage, I guess.
|Even when watermelons gained popularity in Europe in the 17th century |
You mean at the same time that Europeans started trading with China?
|the fruit looked a lot different than it does today. |
I'm not sure I agree. I was looking at a 17th century painting of them just ten minutes ago and they seemed awfully familiar. Apart from this
|Significant efforts to improve the taste and the size of watermelons started in the early 20th century. |
But do go on. Can you try to avoid circular reasoning
|The red flesh was a lot smaller and the rind took up a lot more of the space. The fruit also contained a lot more seeds and was harder to eat. It is speculated that European watermelons looked almost identical to the ones depicted in the painting above. |
Any other pix in the frame we might be casting a jaundiced eye over?
|Curiously, readers also noted some paintings from the same time period of normal-looking watermelons, including Brueghel's "Still Life of Fruit and Flowers." However, the diversity of watermelons available doesn't disprove that uncultivated watermelons, like the ones in Stanchi's painting, were significantly different from the ones we consume today. Brueghel's watermelon may have been all red — but Stanchi's ripe watermelon was considered worthy of being painted as well. Over time, breeding helped us define the ideal watermelon. |