Monday, August 22, 2005

Identity of Candied Watermelon

Identity of Candied Watermelon

H.B. Paksoy, D. Phil.

Lectures prepared for the
Course entitled
“Rewriting History: Emerging Identities and Nationalism in Central Asia”
Budapest, July 2004

During the depths of cold war, one of the Moscow airports was decorated with large-scale mural images from each of the Soviet Republics. Ozbekistan was represented with cotton and, yes, melons. The joke used to be that, Aeroflot flights leaving Taskent had devil of a time getting airborne, due to the large quantities of melons they were carrying in their cargo holds. And, someone with either a great sense of humor, or in possession of acute business sense, marked the pictured melons on the mural with “3 rubles per kilo.” At the time, Moscowites were the latest customers of that fruit which is a close cousin of cucumbers. Previously, we find varieties of cucumis being mentioned in medieval Central Asian writings, as they were obviously highly prized.

One may indulge in candied fruits at various time-periods around the calendar year (except, perhaps, when encountered in the ‘dreaded’ fruit cake). Apple, strawberry, apricot, orange peel are the varieties that come to mind almost immediately. Along with their names, the images, sounds and aromas of the season associated with a given fruit is also burnt into our memories. Hot toddies, sweetness, tartness, fragrances are all good for the body as well as the soul. Provided, of course, one lives in a culture that affords these small favors bestowed upon the humans. In most cases, prior to candying the fruit, it must be dried; that is, the natural water content must be drastically reduced. Central Asians have been traditionally preserving fruits for consumption out-of-season for centuries that we are aware. They do not need to ‘candy’ the fruit, as their varieties are naturally sweet; almost too sweet to begin with. Apples, apricots, grapes, prunes and even pomegranates do especially well when dried under the sun. But, what about melons? The Central Asian solution has been to harvest the melons with stems intact, so that each individual fruit could be suspended from the ceiling of the specially built, naturally temperature controlled larders. In that manner, the melons would be available for consumption for a few months. In other words, no dried melons.

Over the past decades, a series of private companies began patenting methods of drying fruits around the world. These techniques do not always involve sun, fire or even heat. Some depend on cold, freezing temperatures in extracting the natural water from the fruit. In that fashion, the dehydrated fruit weighs less for transportation purposes. Whether or not the taste is similar to the original is a matter of preference and opinion. But, what about the melon? If dried melons are commercially available, I have not been privy to that knowledge.

Some appliance manufacturers managed to design food dehydrators. Allegedly, those were marketed as one result of the cold war, so that the population can preserve and later have access to their favorite foods while awaiting the results of a predicted nuclear exchange in the comfort of their underground blast-proof bunkers. It is even asserted that some users managed to dehydrate, to preserve, watermelons. I wonder. Yet, there are no reports of candied watermelons. Not even from Central Asia.

Apparently, research is ongoing in the elusive quest for obtaining dried melons. The abstract of a research project reports:

The combination of osmotic dehydration and weak acids addition is a mild process that results in a final product with organoleptic characteristics very similar to fresh and "ready to eat" fruit, appropriate for immediate consumption. The purpose of this work was to evaluate the influence of citric and lactic acids on the production of osmotically dehydrated melon and on its final quality. Melon (Cucumis melo inodorus, cultivar Gold Mine) pieces of 40x30x15 mm were immersed in three types of dehydrating solutions (sucrose + citric acid, sucrose + lactic acid and control) of different concentrations (50 to 70ºBrix). Osmotic dehydration was carried out for up to three hours under controlled temperature (30 to 50ºC). The addition of acids had no significant influence on chroma parameters. However, solution concentration and process temperature increased lightness significantly. The fracture stress was weaker in processed samples as compared to fresh ones, but the fracture strain was much higher for samples treated with lactic acid at 50ºC, resulting in more viscoelastic but firmer products.[i]

So far, it appears there is not a commercially viable dried or candied Central Asian melon on the market, nor do we have any hope of a reasonable timetable to expect one. A Thai company appears to advertise dried bits of Thai melons; not whole melons.

It may yet prove to be possible to dehydrate the prized Central Asian melon. Is there a need to produce candied watermelon? To what end?

Is everything reducible to the pleasures they may evoke? Even in facsimile, in the form of a dehydrated caricature when one of the main attractions is the characteristic ‘wet’ taste?

The subject matter and these questions are directly related to the Identity issues:

1. Can identities be taken out of context?
This is perhaps the oldest question: Can we consider earth’s gravity without the earth? For example, can there be Central Asian Identity without Central Asian Values?

2. Can identities be transplanted from a donor to a recipient polity?
Is it possible to import, say, a specific Eskimo identity and juxtapose it onto Central Asians, and make Central Asians all Eskimos living in Central Asia? How long would that be functional?

3. Can Identities be embellished?
Can the Central Asian Identity be ‘improved’ from the outside, by enhancing it with ‘additives?’ Is it feasible to concoct a “New and improved” Identity?

4. Is it possible to construct a hybrid identity?
Can a hybrid identity duplicate itself? The effort necessary for producing hybrids will have to be repeated ad infinitum with every half generation. Mind you, this ‘operation’ has been tried in the distant and near past, primarily involving Central Asians and Central Asian Identity.

5. What causes an Identity to evolve?
Is it certain that an Identity will not ‘improve’ if left to its own devices, polity and values? What may be salient parameters?

6. Can a new Identity be grafted onto an existing one?
This, too, has been attempted. What methods have been employed in the past? What was the success rate? Can those efforts be refined and made more ‘effective?’

7. Is it possible to ‘speed’ the calendar when it comes to Identity ‘evolution?’
Speed is not always successful, or lead to success. For example, too much artificial fertilizer used to grow citrus in a shorter period will cause a condition called ‘puffing.’ There will be pockets of air between the skin and the fruit. The taste, presentation, aroma will not be there. The lemon, orange or tangerine will not have sufficient ‘wetness; it will taste dry, without being subjected to the drying process. The crop will be unusable from the consumer’s point of view.

At this juncture, we need to put away the shoehorn, and turn our eyes toward the cobbler. If the shoe does not fit, we cannot wear it even after attempting to force our feet into an unsuitable form; lest we are fond of walking around with tears in our eyes. Comfortable shoes are probably more important than a good watermelon. That is, if one is not dehydrating in the desert. One must not forget: dehydration will cause mirages. And mirages are notorious for not being real, causing heartbreak and death. Every biological entity will seek food, shelter and the necessary protections. And, biological entities will do everything they can, in order to survive. The ecology community finally began to understand that fact. The logic was simple and clear: each entity has something to contribute for the good of all, even if that ‘something’ may not be apparent at the moment.

Identities certainly experience shifts:

The owners may choose to initiate change, for their own purposes

Every identity experiences this, to a greater or lesser extent. It is a natural motion. This may involve degeneration or refinement of the core identity, depending on the governing conditions and cycles.

Contact with other, neighboring or distant identities will cause interactions

This may be a shadow of the ‘sports team model’; when a team plays another, differences will come to focus sharply. At times, Identities will borrow from each other or, in reaction to the contacted identity, strengthen some aspects of itself, definition and modes of operation.

Reaction to outside forces, in response to undue pressures.

This is the most problematic type of change, because an Identity may thus be pushed to extremes. Sharpening of extremes will be inevitable. An identity operating at its extreme edges will not only harm itself, but will cause harm to the interacting ones.

When the governing strata of a polity decides to tinker with the prevailing identity or identities, there will be another set of challenges:

i. the leadership vision of the identity may be quite different from that of the held by the individuals in that polity

ii. the prevailing collective identity can differ from the goals and aspirations of the governing strata

iii. resultant internal tensions will cause turbulence that will be irresistible to outside forces, inviting ‘unwanted’ interventions.

Again, the last option will lead to instability both for the identity that is being tinkered with, as well as the ‘tinkering forces.’ An Identity has the propensity to protect itself; it will respond instinctively through individuals and institutions. Examples abound.

Any doctrinaire behavior, regardless of its source and inspiration, will draw reactions. Also, provocative actions, with or without association with any movement will be recognized. The responses to such provocations may vary according to the collective intellects facing such ‘insulting confrontations’ as they will be seen. Never in doubt, always in error.

In conclusion: We still have no candied watermelon. Perhaps it is as moot a challenge as finding Utopia. Let the ‘wet’ taste of a watermelon reign and be enjoyed.



[i] Quality of osmotically dehydrated melon in sucrose solutions with addition of acids. Eliana Janet Sanjinez Argandoña2; Cintia Nishiyama2; Míriam Dupas Hubinger
Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Fac. de Engenharia de Alimentos, Dep. de Engenharia de Alimentos, Caixa Postal 6121, CEP 13083-970 Campinas, SP
Cf Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira
Print ISSN 0100-204X Vol. 37 No 12 Dec 2002

Identities: How Governed, Who Pays?