Of the Southern watermelon, Mark Twain once wrote, “When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.” Which is true, if that watermelon is ripe. Old wives’ tales abound on how to tell if the fruit is ready. So we put the question to two experts: Heather Raulerson, president of the Alabama Watermelon Association and former Florida Watermelon Queen, and Martha Hall Foose, a renowned
Mississippi chef who once won a watermelon-seed-spitting contest.
1. The Look
The watermelon should be symmetrical, with no bumps or bruises except for little “creek bed” indentations along the outside, says Foose. “That shows it’s had more bee action.” If the discolored spot on the bottom, caused by the watermelon’s lying on the ground, is green or barely white, forget it. You want a cream color, like a manila folder.
2. The Feel
No matter its circumference, the melon should seem heavy for its size—a ripe watermelon is 92 percent water, after all, says Raulerson. Beware: If the surface gives when you put pressure on it, or if the fruit has a flat bottom, it is too ripe.
3. The Thump
Pick up the melon and hold it in your arms like a baby (but not too near your body). Give it a solid flick with your fingers or a knock with your knuckles. The echo should sound hollow, with a deep, round tone. “Like in elementary-school music class,” Foose says, “when you would hit the wooden block with a stick.” The thump should also cause a vibration that resonates all the way to your hand cradling the bottom of the melon. Says Foose, “You’re looking for one with really good vibes.”