~By Sarah Pascarella
Let me say this upfront: I am not a picky eater. There are very few dishes I won’t try, and most foods are welcome on my plate (or in my bowl, as it were). But there is one fruit I cannot abide: melon, in all its forms.
What is it about this fruit that is so vile? Is it cantaloupe’s odd combination of sticky-sweet and musty-earth flavors, the undertone that always seems like something just about to ferment, and its flesh that’s at once both soft and dense? Is it honeydew’s ghastly syrup-sweet taste, and the slight yield of the fruit with each bite? Watermelon is perhaps the most disappointing–its flavor divine, its texture unforgivable. Many times I’ve lamented the crisp, refreshing taste of watermelon, enclosed in its crushed-ice-like, pulpy, seedy body. If I could get the taste of a watermelon enclosed in the crispness of an apple, the luscious flesh of a mango, it would no doubt be among my most favorite fruits.
And perhaps above all: Is there anything worse than overripe melon? My nostrils contract just at the suggestion.
I am alone in my family with this aversion. I remember smiling slices of cantaloupe gracing my childhood breakfast table, a full plate of the golden fruit abutting my beloved English muffins, rye toast, or muffins. My sisters and parents would dig in with gusto. I would always be encouraged to try a slice of melon–“this time, you might like it,” my mother would suggest. That never worked.
In high school, I went out for the cross country team. We had two weeks of pre-season in August, just before the start of school, to prepare for the races that started in early September. On one particularly hot afternoon, our coach had us run over to a foreboding hill about a mile away from the school.
We arrived at the hill in the afternoon heat, dripping with sweat, where our coach awaited us in his pickup truck. The truck bed had been well stocked with kegs of water and Gatorade–as well as several plump watermelons.
“We’ll be doing hill drills today,” my coach said with a sly smile. “Five times up and down the hill is a set. We’ll be doing at least three to five sets. When we’re done, the watermelon is ALL YOURS.” He said this grandly, as if it were the highest of rewards.
I started up the hill, the mid-afternoon heat and humidity bearing down on me as I huffed and puffed. Like most of my fair-skinned relatives from the British Isles and Eastern Europe, my cheeks quickly flushed and deepened in color, much like an overripe fruit.
“Come on, Sarah!” My coach shouted as I struggled midway through my last set. “Just a few more minutes before the WATERMELON.”
I debated the merits of yelling the appropriate obscenities at him, the disgrace I would face if I were to do so and get kicked off the team. Although, struggling up the hill in the oppressive temperatures, my “reward” awaiting me, I wondered if getting booted would be such a bad thing.
My teammates and I finished and they attacked the melon, exclaiming with pleasure over the fruit, forcefully spitting the seeds to the ground as if they were insulting the conquered hill. I leaned against the truck, catching my breath, alternating between cups of Gatorade, its taste like watered-down cough syrup, and plain old water. In my exerted state, the watermelon seemed even more wretched.
I recently was at a B&B in Oregon, and the innkeeper had prepared a decadent breakfast for us, starting with a fruit salad. A few scoops of cantaloupe tainted an otherwise perfect bowl of blackberries, strawberries, apple, and peaches. It had been at least ten years since I had last eaten any melon. I could almost hear my mother’s voice in my ear, reminding me one’s taste buds change every few years. Our innkeeper was nice; she had made us this fruit salad from scratch. I decided to give it a try.
I still don’t like it.