HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

October 31st, 2014 by The Watermelon Guy

Happy Halloween, everyone! I found the image above while poking around for a Halloween-related watermelon photo. It’s an eerie postcard from the olden days, made only eerier by the “Salem, Mass” at the top. (Home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, of course.)

What I don’t understand about the image is why a witch would need to be chauffeured around in a watermelon car in the first place? I mean, aren’t witches supposed to be able to fly on brooms? She’s even holding her broom! One possible explanation is that she just likes to show off her awesome watermelon car. I know I would if I had one. Or maybe her broom isn’t working and she’s on her way to get it repaired. Yeah, that’s probably what’s happening in this picture.

Not all vintage Halloween postcards feature watermelon (actually, the card above was the only one I found). Most are just weird. Like the one below. The little witch is adorable, but that thing standing next to her would get a door slammed in his face if he ever stopped by my house for a trick-or-treat visit. And I’m pretty sure he stole the little witch’s hat. Give it back, Mr. Creepy. While you’re at it, please put the cat down.

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Nowadays, when I think of watermelon and Halloween, I much prefer images like the one below. I carved this charming jack-o-melon last year and even propped him up on my front porch with a candle inside. It’s simple, it’s festive, and it doesn’t make me afraid to open my door when I hear a little tap-tap-tapping on my door on Halloween night.

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SECOND SLICE: WHY DON’T PEOPLE CARVE WATERMELONS FOR HALLOWEEN?

October 17th, 2014 by The Watermelon Guy

picI love watermelon, which is why I have to ask the important question: Why don’t people carve watermelons at Halloween?

The answer might lie in the history of pumpkin carving. According to Wikipedia, the practice of carving jack-o’-lanterns (which aren’t always made from pumpkins) dates back to early 1800s Ireland. Interestingly, the Irish carved turnips and swedes (rutabagas, not people from Sweden), lit them up with a lump of burning coal, and placed them on their doorsteps to welcome deceased loved ones and ward off evil spirits.

It wasn’t until the practice was adopted in North America sometime in the mid-1800s that pumpkins were used, mainly because they were more readily available than turnips and also easier to carve. That last part (about pumpkins being readily available and easier to carve) might be the key to solving this mystery.

Pumpkins are traditionally harvested in September and October, just in time for Halloween. That fact alone is probably a big reason why pumpkins (and not watermelons, which are more widely available in the summer) are used for the fall celebration.

“Easier to carve” is another clue. While watermelon isn’t all that difficult to carve — in fact, its rind is actually easier to slice through than the harder-shelled pumpkin — the pumpkin is much more hollow than a watermelon, giving it a slight edge in the “easy to carve” category. The aforementioned hard shell of the pumpkin probably also helps it maintain its carved shape longer than a watermelon would.

I should also point out that pumpkins, with their relatively flat base, are able to sit upright when carved, while many watermelons tend to have a mind of their own when placed on a flat surface. Anyone who’s had a watermelon roll off their kitchen counter to meet its untimely demise on the floor knows that all too well.

For the final word on this topic, I turned to Hugh McMahon, a professional pumpkin carver I interviewed previously on the blog. Hugh has carved pumpkins and watermelons into hundreds (if not thousands) of amazing things and could definitely shed some light on why people prefer pumpkins over watermelon — at least for carving.

“Pumpkins are less messy, which makes them a little easier to work with than watermelons,” said McMahon. He also pointed to the pumpkin’s position as a fall harvest symbol as a reason for its stranglehold on Halloween but didn’t rule out the use of watermelon in the fall and winter months. McMahon has carved watermelons for tropical-themed fall events, including a series of watermelons for Bette Midler’s annual “Hulaween” party fundraiser.

“Occasionally, I break the rules for fun,” added McMahon.

I propose that we all break the rules a little bit this year and save a pumpkin by carving a watermelon or two. Watermelon is a lot tastier than pumpkin pulp, and a lot easier to carve than a turnip, that’s for sure.

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ASK THE EXPERTS: THE CASE OF THE HAUNTED WATERMELON

October 14th, 2014 by The Watermelon Guy

Halloween is upon us, so I’ve decided to post this bizarre Q&A about a mysterious exploding watermelon. For optimal effect, read it with the lights off and a watermelon lurking in the next room.

ED ASKS: I had a watermelon sitting on the kitchen table when all of a sudden it split and began to squirt its juices as far as seven feet. What would cause this?

picWow. That sounds pretty bizarre, Ed. So bizarre, in fact, that if I found myself in that situation, I’m not sure if I would find it funny or if I would run screaming into the other room.

I’ve heard of watermelons splitting open and spewing juices and/or foam before. I’ve even heard of watermelons “exploding.” For some reason, whenever I read stories about watermelons doing these types of things, I get the same feeling inside that I do when I read stories about encounters with ghosts.

For an answer to your seemingly supernatural question, I turned to an expert in weird watermelon occurrences, Dr. Penny Perkins-Veazie. She’s a plant physiologist and professor who’s pretty much seen it all when it comes to the strange things that fruits and vegetables do.

A breeder once described a scenario in which visitors were so enamored with these cute little watermelons that they loaded up the station wagon, only to have them explode (and I do mean explode!) all over the car.

Watermelon splitting (or exploding) can be caused by the “exploding gene,” which is found in many of the heirloom varieties, or from increased water turgor in the watermelon. Sometimes just placing the fruit on a surface, bumping it, or touching it with a knife will cause an immediate pop on the side.

Of course, the other reason watermelons can split is because of bacterial infections inside the watermelon. Like many fruits, watermelon are susceptible to certain decay organisms and wild yeast. When this happens, it can lead to a fermentation process inside the watermelon. Pressure can build inside, causing the watermelon to split and erupt like a volcano or to foam uncontrollably.

So there you have it, Ed. You’ve either got a watermelon with an “exploding gene” or a bacterial infection. I asked Dr. Penny if ghosts could somehow be responsible for your watermelon’s bizarre behavior, and she stood by her previous answer. I’m not saying your watermelon was haunted, but I feel compelled to offer that as a possible explanation.

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