Thursday, June 5, 2014

When Bad Produce Happens to Good People - Watermelon

This is not a tale of the cunning redeployment of substandard produce - tasteless blueberrieswithered grapes or never-gonna-ripen pears.

Rather, this is the Curious Case of the Exploding Watermelon.

It's also a contender for My Most Disgusting Produce Story, poised to dethrone the current champion, the tale which begins with my college roommate Kumi preparing some crudites in a lidded box for her Japanese class's midyear party. In June, I discovered the box when I was clearing out our dorm room. I guessed that the orange liquified bits had begun their lives as carrots, the pale green ones, celery. As for the darker green ones - sugar snap peas? String beans? I was too too busy gagging to make it interesting with a wagering pool. (Kumi, safely back in California by then, naturally found the story hilarious. She still does.)

This new story begins with a nice watermelon that looked like this:

When I set it aside for 2 days, my worst fear was that it was under-ripe and wouldn't taste very good.

Clearly, my fears lacked imagination and ambition. When I went to cut it up last night, the watermelon looked like this:

"Gee, my watermelon looks like it's taking a swim in a lake that could catch on fire," I thought cheerfully. "But who would put viscous water in the bowl?"

The next thought was dawning horror.

I grabbed a doubled trash bags and dumped the bowl's contents into the bags.

Normally I a pretty committed composter, but at times like this I am grateful for my dishwasher and my building's trash chute (one of the delights of apartment living). 

If you have a delicate stomach, you might want to skip to the end of this blog post. The watermelon had become truly revolting. Its rind collapsed and the watermelon's insides came pouring out.

The liquid was everywhere, damaging the wood of the furniture the mat was on, wetting (but mercifully not causing lasting harm) a fancy lamp, and in generally making a colossal mess. 

"Wow, that looks like the scene of a crime!" a friend said when I showed him the pictures.

What happened here?

According to a blog post called "Why Do Watermelons Crack, Split and Explode?",

As soon as a fresh plant is removed from its host plant or reaches maturity, it begins to very slowly break down. Heat accelerates this process. 
As it breaks down, a colorless gas called acetylene forms inside the water melon. The gas is volatile and quite unstable while in gas form (which is why when it's used in scientific experiments it's usually used in liquid form.)
The gas will try its best to escape the water melon but as it slowly increases due to the rotting in the water melon, the pressure will continue to increase.
When the skin of the watermelon is no longer strong enough to hold the gas inside, it will explode, often spraying all nearby surfaces with rotten water melon. Sometimes a trip home from the shop in a warm car is the final catalyst required to create an explosion.

Despite the disgusting scene at my house, I feel we got off easy. Just Google a phrase like "exploding rotten watermelon" and you'll see videos with watermelon bits on the ceiling and comments about the worst smell in the world. My watermelon didn't stink and I didn't have to destroy the carpet and the floorboards underneath.

Because of this, I could be more tolerant. Don't we all explode at times? 

So even if this isn't a redemptive tale, at least it has a happy ending: watermelon and I are still friends. Now excuse me while I bite into this instant refreshment.

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