Yesterday, I was cutting up a watermelon from the garden–a cute little 6-lb. Sugar Baby–when I thought to myself, My daughter is going to complain about the fact that it has seeds. “Yes, darling,” I began the reply in my head, “once upon a time all watermelons had seeds, and everyone knew how to spit them out.” I thought about adding that kids used to have a lot of fun spitting them at each other but then thought better of it.
I continued cutting the watermelon and started wondering what effect the loss of seeds has had on watermelons’ taste. I know, of course, that supermarket seedless watermelons are completely lacking in flavor, but that may not be due to their being seedless. It may be the same problems that afflict all other supermarket produce: the fact that they are picked under-ripe and are varieties that have been selected not for taste but for appearance, uniformity, and shippability. I know that there are other reasons to prefer a watermelon with seeds (for instance, the fact that you can save the seeds instead of being forced to buy hybrid ones from some agribusiness seed conglomerate). But I imagine that selecting watermelons for seedlessness doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for selecting for taste. Have any of you readers found a seedless watermelon that can measure up in taste tests to the seedful kind? I will probably stick with my Sugar Babies in any case (they’re such a convenient size for the fridge!), but I’m curious. Has our culture lost something by forgetting how to spit out watermelon seeds?
Thinking about the lost art of seed spitting reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago in France, when the father of my then-boyfriend proudly served a Sunday lunch of whole steamed fish. (Well, not quite whole; he had caught off the heads.) I watched everyone else lay their fish out in two halves and then carefully remove its skeleton in one large piece. I took a deep breath and did my best to follow suit. I noticed that, as the meal went along, everyone else had an additional little pile of bones–“arêtes,” they called them–accumulating at the side of their plate. They seemed to find these the way old-timers found watermelon seeds: by chewing. This made me a little nervous, as I had already ingested about half of my fish without coming across any bones. And then…I felt one. In my esophagus. I coughed. I drank some water. I coughed again, a little more violently.
“Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” the chef asked, with concern.
Oh, nothing, just a little American who doesn’t know how to eat seafood, I thought, despite growing up on the Chesapeake Bay.
Of course, I did know how to eat seafood–the fried kind. The kind that had already been cleaned, fileted, and reduced to bite-size pieces.
This reminded me in turn of the new trend in fried chicken: chicken tenders. Kids these days (and, increasingly, adults) are grossed out by bones, skin, and fat, not to mention tendons and other connective tissue. If KFC has jumped on the bandwagon, offering boneless chicken, you know the crisis has reached serious proportions. They must have started losing serious market share to McNuggets. And that, my friends, is how we know that something is wrong.
As I finished chopping the watermelon and putting it in Tupperware in the fridge (does anyone else think that watermelon that’s been refrigerated tastes sweeter?), I wondered just how far this trend would carry us. If what we want is food that requires absolutely no skill to eat whatsoever, then isn’t the logical end result milkshakes that supposedly give you every necessary nutrient?
Oh, wait, those already exist.
The fact is, there are some skills (including patience) needed to eat some of the tastiest foods. And I think we ought to keep up those skills and pass them on to our children. Let them get used to eating whole foods–foods that still look like what they came from. Because, with the possible exception of Kentucky Fried Chicken, it seems probable that those are also going to be the freshest, most nutritious foods.
What difficult-to-eat foods do you love?