News - from the past & the present

RECIPE WEDNESDAY: How do you tell if a watermelon is ripe? Here’s advice from 1879


(from July 2, 1879, Birmingham Iron Age)

Few people know, from an outside inspection, how to determine the ripeness and the perfection of a watermelon. Within a few days says a correspondent of the Country Gentleman, I have seen directions given to reach a correct conclusion on the subject, by pressing the melon and noting the manner in which it emits a crackling sound under the operation. These results are to be obtained after some experience in judging of its peculiarity under pressure.

Commercial Club 1917 holding large pieces of watermelons posed, standing around tables, Fairfield, Alabama.(Library of Congress)Commercial Club holding large pieces of watermelons posed, standing around tables, Fairfield, Alabama in 1917 (Library of Congress)

Serious matter to know

Considering the vast quantities of this delicious fruit to be consumed, it is really a serious matter to be able to know certainly when buying a melon, perchance on the street or at a dealer’s stand, whether one is securing a ripe melon or not. In nine cases out of ten the chance is that your melon is only half ripe, and therefore not a great acquisition for your desert.

Infallible sign

Now let me give you and readers an infallible sign by which to know a fully ripened melon. When the melon begins to change color inside, and its seeds to turn black, a small black speck, scale, or blister begins to appear on the outer cuticle or rind. These are multiplied and enlarges as the fruit matures.

Watermelon, eating North Carolina Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress)Children eating watermelon, 1939 by Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress)

Half ripened fruit

A ripe melon will show them thickly sown over the surface. A partial development only indicates half ripened fruit. A full crop of blisters reveals its perfect ripeness. When hundreds of melons are strewn along the sidewalk, you will have to lood pretty sharply to find one that exhibits a satisfactory “escutcheon”, to borrow a term from M. Guenon. But it is unfailing when found, and by following this guide you may walk away with your melon with the most entire confidence. The blister is only to be seen upon close inspection, but is plainly visible when that is given.

Vinegar of the Four Thieves  -many people swear by this potent natural remedy for many illnesses – Would you like to know Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for Vinegar of the Four Thieves or how to make Ox Tail Soup? Discover this recipe as well as many household tips from the past in  Vinegar of the Four Thieves: Recipes & Curious Tips from the Past

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. Carla Carroll

    Is that racist ? Bunch of white kids on a front porch eatin’ watermelon? Just sayin.

    1. Teresa Ard Camp

      Yep! I bet people are offended. It doesn’t take much!

    2. No dummy. It would be racist if they were all black and therefore fit the racial sterotype that you are well aware of being perputrated by white racist, yet you coyly suggest it fits for whites? We see through your robe, honey child.

  2. Geni Mermoud

    well, Sara McFerrin, Author – this could have helped you the other day with your Walmart watermelon!

  3. Rebecca McCallister Spencer

    Things haven’t changed much. “Git outside with that watermelon!”

  4. Rather than look for black specks, my grandmother taught me to thump the rind of a watermelon. If the sound was hollow, the melon was ripe. For cantaloupe, I was taught to sniff the spot where the vine had been attached. If I could smell the cantaloupe, it was ripe. I don’t know where these methods originated. My grandmother was born in 1879 in Mississippi, so maybe it’s an old Southern custom. However, I’ve never gotten an unripe fruit using these “tests” for ripeness.

  5. Ginger Jones Reed

    My granddaddy would not let us eat watermelon until after the Fourth of July! He said it was not good until then. Of course they were all local Alabama watermelons back then!

    1. Cathy Lynn McBride

      Yep! No eating until after the 4th.

    2. Teresa Ard Camp

      Did they keep them on the vine until the 4th?

    3. Regina Poole

      My grandfather kept them on vine ’til after 4th. Oh, they were so-o-o-o-o good!!

  6. Sherry Wolfe

    No watermelon until after the 4th of July that’s what momma said too

  7. Why does racism have appear in every thing! Good Lord!

  8. Linda Edge Barber

    We were treated to our first one on the Fourth of July! Dad closely inspected them daily! We watched him and he always seemed to know just the right ones (it took more than one as there were seven children, plus mom n dad) to pick for that special occasion!

  9. Bill Hewett

    By the sound of the “ThumP.” If it was mashed and you heard a cracking type sound you would know that it was ripe but the heart of the melon would be split.

  10. Becky Rainey

    Thanks Steven Norris!!! Lol

  11. Karen Mellema

    My Granny would always check the colouring and thump that sucker.

  12. Lloyd Wilson

    Reminds me of my childhood with my brother and cousins. Back in the early 40 s.

  13. Angela Vandiver

    Loved summertime, playing all day & eating watermelon under Papaw’s shade tree on the concrete picnic table with cousins!!! What a blessing! Herbert Campbell Marsha BurlesonBeverly BurlesonLisa Lisa Krout Grossheim

    1. Herbert Campbell

      Their wasn’t nothing any better when we were kids!

  14. David Revere

    Times were tougher then than now, but the water melons were sweeter. Most people who were poor didn’t know it because there weren’t many “do-gooders” around to tell them they were poor.

    1. Michelle Walker

      Thats exactly what my late father said. They did not know they were poor because everyone else was the same. He grew up in a similar house to the picture. Ran around in overalls and bare feet.

    2. Roberta Ruth Clower

      That’s exactly what my mama and her sisters and brother said. They grew up in a house that was similar… Actually multiple houses because they didn’t own any place they lived and had to move around. But they did not know they were poor. They said they never thought about it a single time. As long as they had a field to plow and food to grow and meat to shoot, they were happy

  15. Beverly Wheeler

    Being poor often has little to do with the clothes you wear or house you live in. I know people who live in mansions with servants who lack integrity, gratitude, empathy, and are quick to judge others. That is true poverty in my humble opinion. I was reminded of similar scenes from my childhood but we were not fortunate enough to have nice clothes like these kiddos or to always have haircuts when we needed. We were rich in integrity, gratitude, humility and empathy and had strong moral values.

  16. Faye Odom Cartwright

    I don’t think only poor people eat watermelon but, I grew up poor and I ate it every time I got a chance. Most people don’t feel like they have to find something wrong with every post! Those children are just enjoying watermelon.

  17. Lynn Evans Sullivan

    Huh? Why would you say that?

  18. Buffy Hall

    Why would you make that statement. Rich or poor we all grew up on watermelons.

  19. Deidre Barnett

    We weren’t the richest in town and we weren’t the poorest but there wasn’t anything better than an ice cold watermelon on a hot summer day!

  20. My dad and uncles were born in Arab in the 20s and moved to Virginia with some of their friends to work on a large farm just before ww 2, they all married local girls in va. and their families are still in Va. Every one of them could grow the best watermelons you have ever eaten !!!!!, they always said they learned how to raise them in Alabama !!!

  21. Johnny Denson

    When I was young we would find them in the field and bust them with a rock and eat them with our hands. We would be sticky and covered with dust when we got home. Them was good watermelons.

    1. Johnny Denson

      and it did not hurt a one of us.

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