With the enticing displays of watermelons at the grocery store, you may not feel the need to drive to a produce stand or farmers market to find a juicy sweet one.
But sometimes you find yourself on a Louisiana country road in July, passing handmade signs advertising hay for sale, fresh farm eggs and, less frequently, melons.
I was on such a road, Highway 4 in Bienville Parish, the other day when I came across all of those signs, including one for Plunkett Farms Watermelons near the General Store of Castor.
It actually advertised watermelons and black Angus, but since I didn’t have the need (or room in our Camry) for the latter, I concentrated on the melons.
Highway 4 is already off of the beaten path, but you have to go even farther –another half mile or so on a dirt road–past the main house, rusted tractors and sycamore trees to get to Plunketts 20-acre watermelon patch.
There I found Ronald Plunkett and his helpers under a canopy shading them from the harsh afternoon sun. The melons weren’t piled up there, but I was invited to ride in a cart to the field to pick the one I wanted.
Plunkett himself goes out early in the morning, hand picks the ripe ones and piles them up at the edge of the field. By the time he opens at 7 a.m., there’s often a line of truck peddlers waiting to buy them. Plunkett’s father began growing watermelons 68 years ago, and the Plunketts have sold to Brookshire’s and Walmart until the vendor rules got too onerous for him. He has another 25 acres of watermelons planted elsewhere.
We were on our way to Jonesboro that day, and I would have loved to have chatted more but I did get to ask Plunkett and his helpers how to pick the perfect watermelon–whether you’re in the field, at a farmers market or at Kroger.
“Look for a brown scar. I don’t know why but that’s how I have the best luck,” said one guy. I did a little research online where one report suggested brown scarring or webbing meant there was more pollination of the flowers that produce the fruit on the watermelon vine. More pollination = more sweetness, many reports say.
Other tips I’ve read about include:
(1) a creamy yellow “field spot”
(2) a brown rather than a green stem and
(3) uniformly shaped, whether round or oval.
I asked Plunkett for his best advice:
“If it’s shiny on the outside, it’s not ripe. It dulls as it ripens,” he said.
Whatever method you use, Plunkett said the least is the thumping.
“You’re not doing anything but making your finger sore.”
Castor is about an hour southeast of Shreveport and 18 miles west of Saline, a town known for its watermelons. Along my drive the other day, I found some other signs. One advertised Saline Watermelons and gave a telephone number. Another house with a patch outside simply had “Melons” painted on a white sheet. Bienville Parish is a colorful slice of rural Louisiana. If you want to learn more, read here or here.