Friday, August 22, 2008

Watermelon Seeds

I came across an interesting little piece in a magazine called The Metropolitan – ‘a monthly magazine devoted to Religion, Education, Literature, and General Information’ (1854). We don’t seem to ‘do’ General Knowledge any more, do we? Did I miss something? Did it become un-PC?

Any good article raises as many interesting questions as it answers, I think.

“The Watermelon is a fruit of great importance in China, especially on account of its seed, for which the Chinese are possessed of a real passion, or rather a most unnatural appetite. In some parts when the melon crop is abundant, the fruit is valueless and has no price attached to it except for its seed. Loads of melons are sometimes taken to the public road and given to passengers to eat, on condition that they save the seeds and put them aside for the proprietors. By this, not disinterested generosity, they have the gory of refreshing the public in hot weather and then avoid the trouble of working those vegetable mines to extract the precious treasure which they conceal.
Watermelon seed are in fact a real treasure to amuse and beguile at small expense the three hundred millions of inhabitans in the Celestial Empire. In the eighteen provinces these wretched trifles are for all an object of daily gluttony. It is amusing to see these astonishing Chinese attack their melon seeds before dinner, as it were to try the tone of their stomachs and gently sharpen the appetite. Their long pointed nails are on these occasions of immense service. It is worth while to see with what speed and skill they open the hard shell to extract an atom of kernel or perhaps nothing: a flock of squirrels, or apes, could not do it with more ability.
We have always thought that the natural propensity of the Chinese for all that is fictitious and unreal had inspired this mad taste for water-melon seedss, for if there be in the world as fantastic nourishment, it is, beyond a doubt, these same seeds. Accordingly the Chinese use them at all times and in all places. If friends meet to drink tea, or rice wine, a plate of water-melon seeds is a necessary accompaniment. They eat them while travelling, while going through the streets on business: if children or laborers have a few …..? [cant read it] to dispose of they to, as a matter of course, for these delicacies. You can buy them everywhere, in cities, in villages and on all the great and small roads. In the most desert country, bereft of all kinds of provisions, you may be sure that you will not be deprived of water-melon seeds. In this vast empire the consumption is incalculable, and enough to confound the wildest imagination. Junks laden exclusively with this commodity are constantly met on the rivers; you would indded suppose the nation to belong to the family ‘Rodentes.’ It would be a curious work, and worth the attention of our great compilers of statistics, to estimate how many water-melon seeds are consumed daily, monthly, yearly, in a country of more than three millions of inhabitants.”

Now this is a wonderful example of mid-nineteenth century ethnocentricity. But it is confused, is it not? The writer cant quite decide whether he admires the canny Chinese, or not. They have a rodent-like ‘unnatural appetite’ for a most nutritious food. They have a very clever everyone-wins way of ‘working the vegetable mines’ (I love that phrase - I will look at a water-melon in quite a different way from now on.)

Surely the Chinese pickle the water melon rind too? I can hardly imagine that it would be thrown away.

Today, I give you a very value-added way of using up that pesky flesh of the fruit.

Watermelon, how to serve.
Use only those melons that are perfectly ripe. Do not select those that are very large in circumference; a rough melon with a bumpy surface is the best. Either cut in half or plug and fill with the following: Put on to boil some pale sherry or claret and boil down to quite a thick syrup with sugar. Pour this into either a plugged melon or over the half-cut melon, and lay on ice for a couple of hours before serving. If you use claret you may spice it while boiling with whole spices.
Aunt Babette's Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household: A vaulable collection of receipts and hints for the housewife, many of which are not to be found elsewhere. c1889.

Quotation for the Day …

Watermelon -- it's a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face. Enrico Caruso.


Elise said...

The sad thing, at least around here, is that you simply cannot find a watermelon with seeds in it anymore, or big rinds for that matter. They only sell these seedless variety with thin rinds. So, no more seed-spitting contests, and no more watermelon pickles.

I had no idea that anyone would ever want to actually eat the seeds. Wonder what's inside?

Peace/Piece of Mind said...

What's inside is a swet, crisp, and delicious nuts. Imagine a thin almond that melts in your mouth. The taste is quite different from any other seed that's been commercialized in western parts of the world. I'm having green-tea melon seeds now and they're GOOD!