On the Jewish food scene: My mom and watermelon

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

When I was very young, I thought bread only had three corners because my mom would cut off one of the corners and eat it. OK, she didn’t always do that, but often enough for me to remember. (And, yes, it became a family joke.) She also never understood how anyone could like something cooked differently, so my father, who liked his steak rare, was forced to eat his meat well done. In fact, my mom liked things slightly burnt, something I’ve started to enjoy when roasting vegetables. (There is something about those burnt edges that make them the best part.)

My mother and I both adored fruit. I think we once polished off a dozen oranges between us in a single day. My mom was normally generous – willing to take less of something so we kids could have more. However, there was one exception: watermelon. As my mother once put it: there is no mother-daughter relationship when it comes to watermelon. (Those were her exact words.)

I’ve been thinking about that now that summer is here and the fruit we both loved is out in abundance. We would carefully watch for when cherries were on sale, buy several pounds and eat them as fast as we could. Then watermelon season would hit; when I was young, you could only get good watermelons in August, so we would inspect them carefully. My mom’s sure-fire way to find a good watermelon was to knock on it and, if it didn’t answer, it was OK. (Yes, I know another bad joke, but since she would actually say this, you have to blame her this time.) But even a bad watermelon was a good watermelon because, well, it was watermelon.

This is the first year my mom and I won’t be sharing any summer fruit. I just bought a big bunch of cherries and can’t help but think of her when I eat them. I’ve already had some watermelon and didn’t have to worry about someone eating it before I had a chance. I would be happy to have that problem again. 

Some Jewish mothers offer you chicken soup; others always have a plate of homemade cookies available. My Jewish mother filled our refrigerator with fruit and now I do the same.