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Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to do a honeydew

By Dick Hirsch

Here I am, thumping again, hoping for better results than I’ve had in the past, but well aware that the results of my thumping will probably continue to be disappointing.

I seldom do any thumping during the rest of the year, but each summer at the appropriate time the persistent side of my personality takes charge and my approach becomes to try, try again. So I thump. On occasions I’ve told myself that the thumping was a waste of time, an obsolete procedure I should abandon. Yet when the time is ripe, I just cannot forsake the old ways.

Thus, my quest for an outstanding and memorable honeydew melon continues.

I prowl the produce aisles of the supermarkets and pick through the piles of melons at the farmers’ market, always seeking promising candidates. No, of course, I don’t thump every honeydew. First they must pass the smell test.

Many melon mavens rely solely on their sense of smell. They insist they can detect melon quality merely by the sniff test; they hold the melon under their nose, rotate it slowly while quietly inhaling. They don’t snort. They concentrate on the area of the melon where it was attached to the vine, starting and ending at that point, and quietly breathing and assessing the distinctive fruity aroma. Then they make their selection based on the evidence they feel they’ve detected.

I follow that approach, but I don’t consider my nose to be well educated enough to make my choices based only on a sniffing examination. First, I employ a brief smell test, rejecting those green melons that were harvested prematurely, those that are obviously ordinary, bruised, overripe, or should be disqualified for other reasons, including appearance.

Those that pass the preliminary examination then get the thump test. I am an ambidextrous thumper. Depending upon the location of the honeydew display, I’ll cradle each specimen with one arm and thump with the other hand, making a loosely clenched fist and striking the skin of the melon gently but firmly with the second knuckle of the forefinger and middle finger of the operational hand. I learned this approach years ago from my friend, Benny, who had a long career as a huckster of fruits and vegetables. He was a thumper. He would cock his head slightly, leaning toward the melon and listening intently as he thumped. I met him one day in a produce department and he agreed to demonstrate his thumping technique, the technique I eventually adopted. As I watched, he tested a number of melons, thumping, listening carefully to the sound produced with each melon, and finally making his selection.

“This is an outstanding specimen,” he raved, presenting it to me as it were a treasured relic. “You won’t be disappointed.” I accepted the melon, gently placed it in the shopping cart, and only then did I ask Benny what I believed was a critical question.

“What exactly am I listening for?”

He said no one had ever asked that question before. There was a long pause as he reflected, trying to define the precise positive sound for which he listened while he thumped.

“If it sounds hollow, it’s no good,” he said, “so put those back and try some others. What you are looking for is a deeper sound, a sound that has a strong feeling that comes from a ripe, sweet melon.”

I nodded as if I understood, but I was still uncertain. I’ve been listening ever since, attempting to differentiate the hollow sounds from the deeper sounds of the prime specimens. That is not easy work.

As I’m sure you must know, the search for a superb honeydew melon is difficult and frustrating. Despite my best efforts and the good work of my wife, Lynn, who has her own strategy, we’ve had to be satisfied with mediocre melons. We have flunked many melons in the search. I believe I was in eighth grade when I was fortunate enough to be served a fabulous wedge of honeydew; even at that age I knew it was extra firm, tasty and juicy. In my innocence I anticipated many more melons as good as that. It hasn’t worked out that way, but the search goes on.

Should you happen to see me thumping a melon at the market, please refrain from interrupting me since concentration is essential in searches such as this. Despite the past record, I remain optimistic and still hope for success. I’ll be glad to advise you later but I cannot undertake freelance thumping assignments.


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