Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

Watermelons-art - 8/12/07


"Regarding Watermelons" by THL Johnnae llyn Lewis.


NOTE: See also the files: fruits-msg, fruit-melons-msg, berries-msg, Period-Fruit-art, fruit-citrus-msg, pomegranates-msg, figs-msg, bananas-msg, Africa-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Regarding Watermelons

by Johnnae llyn Lewis, CE


Questions arise each summer with regard to the origins of Watermelons and if one should serve them at events. Given that they are so deeply associated with the American South, it is felt that they must be New World in origin, right?


In this case watermelons come originally from Sub-Saharan Africa and were eaten not only by Africans in Central and West Africa but also by the Egyptians, and even by the Romans and Greeks. Andrew Dalby believes the sikyos pepon of the ancient Greeks may indeed be a watermelon. As one might suspect, they came to be grown in and around the Mediterranean Lands by the Turks, the Moors, and even by the Italians. Recipes are few, although the Kitab Wasf Al-At'ima Al-Mutada speaks of using watermelon stalks when cooking meat. Giacomo Castelvetro's 1614 manuscript on the fruits and vegetables that he had known in Italy in the later half of the 16th century says of them:

"early in June we have watermelons, which some claim to be another kind of cucumber. They are extremely thirst-quenching, being little more than a pleasant, sweet-tasting juice which fills the mouth and is marvelously refreshing."


Watermelons began to appear in still life paintings in Northern Europe after circa 1450 and can be found in a number of printed herbals, including the New Kreuterbuch of 1563. John Gerald writes about muske-melons, millions, melons and pompions as well as gourds in a series of chapters in his Herball. Thomas Hill's The Gardener's Labyrinth had already included a short section on how one might achieve success in growing melons in the uncertain climate of English gardens in 1577.


As to the deep association with American South, it is felt that watermelon seeds traveled directly to the Americas from Spain and Portugal and also from West Africa with the slave trade, beginning in the 17th century. The fruit proved easy to grow in the warm climate and was adapted readily. William Weaver writes that they appear already in accounts from 1629 Massachusetts and notes that they seem to have been growing in and around the Delaware River by the 1640's.


I have not found that garnishing melons in the fashions employed today was done prior to 1600, but again it seems the decorative, inexpensive, and festive thing to do. It's also fun and relatively easy, if one has the proper garnishing knives and saws. (It's something else to do with those pumpkin carving kits.) Rest assured that they can indeed be served at events and as Castelvetro noted, they can be marvelously refreshing on a hot day.


Selective Sources include:


Rodinson, Arberry, and Perry. Medieval Arab Cookery, 2001.


Andrew Dalby. Siren Feasts, 1996. Giacomo Castelvetro (trans. Gillian Riley) The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy, 1989.


Thomas Hill. The Gardener's Labyrinth, 1577, 1987.


William Woys Weaver. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, 1997. Alan Davidson. The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999.


Contributed by THL Johnnae llyn Lewis


"Regarding Watermelons" appeared in the August 2006 PALE, in the late Winter 2006 Artes Draconis; and Mead Meat and More in June 2006.



Copyright 2006 by Johnna H. Holloway. <Johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org