So, I was sitting on my back porch the other day, snacking on some watermelon cubes, when I began to think. Normally, that can be a good or bad thing, but these thoughts were all about watermelon. More specifically, its history.
I came to the realization that I didn’t know much about watermelon and how it became the awesome fruit that it is today. So I did what anyone in the 21st century would do: I Googled it. Here’s what I learned:
According to National Geographic, watermelon originated about 5,000 years ago in southern Africa, looking something like the ones in the image above. Back then, it was a very different watermelon than the one we know and love today (more on the evolution of the watermelon in a future blog entry). The earliest “wild” watermelons were a varied bunch. Some were sweet, some were bitter, and some were bland. In time, breeding would take care of that inconsistency, but folks still loved the watermelon, and it soon spread to Egypt.
It was in Egypt — still almost 5,000 years ago — that the first recorded watermelon harvest took place. Oh yes, those Egyptians LOVED watermelon. They loved it so much, watermelon seeds were found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Egyptians often buried kings with seeds to plant and grow food in the afterlife and also to ward off evil spirits. That may have been the intent, but I like to think that King Tut was maybe just a big fan of watermelon and enjoyed playfully spitting the seeds at his friends.
So, what was it about the watermelon that appealed to the Egyptians (keeping in mind that the early watermelons were bitter and bland)? Much of the appeal was the water content of the watermelon and its usefulness in keeping folks hydrated in hot Egyptian desert climates. That benefit is also why the watermelon soon began to be traded throughout Africa.
It wasn’t long before the watermelon made its way across the Mediterranean Sea to other countries. By the 7th century, it was being cultivated in India. By the early 10th century (or late 9th century, depending on the source), it was popping up all over the place in China.
It took a little while for it to catch on in other parts of Europe, but catch on it did around 1600. It was around that same time that European colonists introduced watermelon to the New World in North America. Spanish settlers were a little quicker to make the introduction, and began growing watermelon in Florida in 1576. By 1629, it was in Massachusetts. Not long after, it was popular in South America, Hawaii and many British and Dutch colonies, thus completing the worldwide spread of the watermelon.
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