The Tohono O’Odham people, who are now the watermelon’s cultural stewards, originally cultivated this yellow-meated fruit. The Yellow-meated watermelon is also known as Gepi by the Tohono O’odham people and as Sikyatko by the Hopi people. Watermelons were among the most important crops to the Piman and Hopi peoples, who ate them for six months of the year. This watermelon has been adopted by many chefs in the Arizona area. Chef Janos Wilder’s restaurant in Tucson as well as Kai restaurant at the Wild Horse Pass resort outside Phoenix served the fruit as a cold soup. When Father Eusebio Kino arrived among the Piman peoples of Southern Arizona in the late 1680s, he was startled to find watermelons being grown throughout the region.
The large oval watermelons have mottled green skin and bright orange-yellow meat. The prolific vines sprawl in all directions and are able to survive the high summer temperatures that are common to the desert environment. Though the Yellow-meated plant can be planted anytime after the last frost, Tohono O’odham farmers typically plant seeds after the onset of the summer monsoons when fields become irrigated with rainwater harvested from distant mountains.
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