Watermelon and lemonade

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 5 Jul 2022


Here come our sizzling, frizzling “Dog Days of Summer”, and what are we to do about it?

With apologies to our canine friends, those “dog days” have nothing to do with dogs, but refer to the sky’s brightest star, Sirius, known as the “Dog Star”, part of the constellation Canis Major, Latin for Greater Dog.

The expression “dog days” refers to the period from 3 July to 11 August, when Sirius rises in the path of the sun, producing the scorching midsummer heat.

A great need for hydration is our main concern. We reach for our favourite carbonated drink, so cool, so refreshing. Your “pop pop, fizz fizz” is irresistible, but what to do about all that sugar?

Like spicy food, carbonated beverages provide a thrill, producing a mildly painful stimulus. No harm in adding a little sugarless fizz to a more nutritious, less harmful drink, but in moderation as too much may result in calcium deficiency, resulting in osteoporosis.

A recent survey found that the most favourite summer drinks are watermelon and lemonade.

You may think you get a refreshing chunk of watermelon, but in fact you are drinking it. Watermelon is 93 per cent water, 46 calories a cup, vitamin C and B6, potassium with zero fat, cholesterol, or sodium.

People have been eating watermelon for millennia. It dates back 5,000 years, probably indigenous to northeastern Africa, growing wild in the deserts of Egypt and Sudan.

Although today’s watermelon is a far cry from its ancestral origin, it was always prized for its ability to store water. Horticulturist Harry Paris found evidence that the ancient Egyptians began growing watermelon crops around 4,000 years ago, which pre-dates farming in Africa.

Archaeologists found watermelon seeds with remnants of other fruit in a 5,000 year-old settlement in Libya.

Seeds and paintings of watermelon have been discovered in Egyptian tombs, more than 4,000 years old. King Tutankhamun’s tomb, discovered in 1922, contained five individual seeds of watermelon.

Seeds were offered to royalty as a gift for a long afterlife. When Egyptians died they had a long journey ahead of them and they needed a source of water. Their custom of placing everyday items in the tombs finds the watermelon the best source of water.

If stored in a cool, shady place, dessert watermelons can keep for weeks, even months without serious deterioration.

Not to be confused with melon, yellow, aromatic, with a shorter shelf-life, our favourite summer fruit could be edible for months. Its expansion was due to this unique quality as a carrier of fresh water for long voyages.

It spread from Egypt and northeaster Africa to the Mediterranean countries, then to Europe and the New World.

Egyptians cultivated the original watermelon, although it was hard and unappealing. Yet, they were determined to plant more, because of its water content. After removing two main genes responsible for its bitter, bland original taste, they produced the fruit we know today. The fruit has been domesticated for 3,500 years.

Hippocrates praised its many healthy properties and Pliny the Elder of Rome described it as a refrigerant maxime — an extremely cooling food.

Now the watermelon is a quintessential slice of summer pleasures the world over. Five-thousand years old and still going strong.

Even cats and dogs like it — seedless, of course.

Make yourself a sweet, refreshing, nutritious, summer drink, mix it with other fruits or lemon and raise your hat to ancient Egypt.

Speaking of lemon, which makes lemonade, is the number two favourite summer drink.

Beyonce was right in calling her bestselling album “Lemonade”, the name makes your mouth water. History records that the recipe has not changed in 1,000 years — the juice of a lemon, water and sweetener (sugar or honey).

The ancient record of lemonade hails from the Mediterranean coast of Mediaeval Egypt. Coincidence?

Nazir Khusraw (1004-1088), Persian poet and philosopher, wrote accounts of 10th century Egyptian life, records that the Jewish community in Cairo, consumed, traded, and exploited bottles of the sugary lemon juice concoction, Qatarmezat, through the 13th century.

The earliest reference to the lemon tree is in a 10th century book by Qustus Al-Rumi. In the late 12th century, Jami, the personal physician to Salaheddin wrote a treatise on the lemon, bringing it to the attention of a wide Mediterranean audience.

By the 17th century our lowly lemonade conquered Paris.

Lemonade vendors made a sparkling water, in 1630, with lemon juice and honey which had Parisians salivating.

In 1780s, German-Swiss jeweller Johann Schweppes invented a new method of carbonation, making mass production more efficient.

By the 1830s ready Schweppes’ fizzy lemonade had stymied the growth of Europe’s lemonade stands.

Parisians developed a special affinity to lemonade, which explains why Paris was relatively untouched during the Plague while the rest of France was being ravished. Chapeau, lemon.

Lemons are high in vitamin C and fibre, reduces the risk of anemia, heart-attacks, prevents kidney stones, and even reduces cancer risk. Nutrients lie in the pulp and the rind.

Wise Mediterraneans use it constantly and squeeze it on all foods, even dessert. Perhaps this is why they are known for their longevity, energy and immunity.

Lemonade is the world’s favourite summer drink. Watermelon is the favourite summer fruit.

How do you beat the dog days of summer? Indulge yourself, or blend them together and you will have “a good ol’ summertime”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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