Q:  When I was a child, my grandfather, a farmer in Ranger, instructed me on how to tell if a watermelon was ripe. He would hit the fruit with the side of his thumb and determine which ones had the deepest “thump.” Are there other techniques? My granddaughter can’t seem to master this skill because of her small hands.

Marvin Cowden, Grand Prairie

A: Given that Texas summers are barely bearable without watermelons, the ability to pick out a good one from the patch or the produce aisle is a useful skill for a granddaughter to have. The Texanist has often deployed the tried-and-true method of examining the color of the rind’s field spot, a.k.a. the place where the melon rested on the soil. A deep yellow hue indicates that it sat in the sun ripening on the vine to maximum sweetness and juiciness; a whiter shade of pale, not so much. 

But since the Texanist is not a professional agronomist, he turned to Kevin Crosby, a professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Horticultural Sciences, for guidance. Crosby, a dedicated scholar of watermelon, said the best method of choosing one from the field is to “check the first tendril above where the peduncle [essentially, the stem] attaches to the fruit to make sure it is dried.” But he wasn’t sure about your grandfather’s method. “I cannot definitively say if thumping always works,” he said. “On some cultivars, it may be accurate due to some airspace inside and a hollow sound when thumped. However, newer, seedless hybrids tend to have little or no airspace inside, and a hollow sound may be an indicator of overripeness.”

Fortunately, Mr. Cowden, an opportunity to test out these methods is coming up soon. The seventieth annual Luling Watermelon Thump, which takes place in south-central Texas June 27–30, will offer attendees the chance to engage in all sorts of melony merriment, including, perhaps, attempts at watermelon ripeness–judging. 

Using his own melon, the Texanist thought to reach out to another trusted source. Luling High School senior Samantha Ordonez, the reigning Luling Watermelon Thump Queen, informed the Texanist that she has used the field-spot technique and the peduncle technique (though the word “peduncle” did not cross her lips). She also recommended a method the Texanist had not heard of. “Don’t thump it—pat it,” she said. “When it sounds and feels like it’s full of juice, that’s when you know it’s a good one.” 

So, Mr. Cowden, the Texanist suggests that in lieu of thumping, your own little watermelon queen should keep an eye out for a dry tendril or an enticingly yellow field spot, or take Her Highness’s advice and commence patting forthwith. 

Rindly yours, 

The Texanist  

Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available . Be sure to tell him where you’re from. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.