Putting all my eggs in one fruit basket
Some little girls grew up dreaming of being police officers. Others wanted to be ballerinas, veterinarians or pop entertainers. I, on the other hand, could never quite make up my mind. One minute I was devoted to the idea of being an artist (4-7 years old), followed closely by psychiatrist (8-14, off and on), exotic chef who carved watermelons and radishes into birds and flowers (10, because I saw it on TV), palliative caregiver (11, for about 2 months, until I went wassailing at a retirement home and realized how bad they can smell), home artisan & soap maker (15…no kidding. Apparently I always liked being poor), penitentiary art therapist (16-19), stage makeup artist (17, when using eyeliner as lipstick was still somewhat acceptable) and a couple of other career options that I refuse to divulge. How I ended up in a pseudo-corporate role is anyone’s guess, really.
Every now and then, life invites you to revisit an old dream, dust it off and give it the old College Try. My opportunity came through email, sponsored by the National Watermelon Promotion Board, inviting us to carve the “coolest, sweetest, most uniquely delicious and creative watermelon carving” that we could come up with.
All I could think of was a duck.
It is hard to explain what goes through your mind when you become fixated on carving a duck out of a watermelon. At first you think, “Okay, seriously? My most creative vision is a DUCK?” This from a person who doesn’t even like birds very much, what with all their hollow bones and beady little eyes (also, I think some birds have teeth and to hell with Audubon trying to claim otherwise). And yet, try as you might to think of reasons to avoid carving a watermelon into mallard, the more you get caught up in what become Very Important Details. For example, you can make watermelon balls, and they can be like EGGS! Eggs for your DUCK! And then….and then you can tie a ribbon on it’s neck, just like Mother Goose. C’mon now, everyone thinks that ducks wearing ribbons are infinitely cuter than ducks without ribbons, right? Right. A duck. And so the Spirit of Carving compelled me….
Despite my early dreams of becoming Exotic Fruit Carving Chef Tina, I have never actually carved a fruit before. Seriously. Not even a carrot. However, pumpkins are totally my wheel house, so I figured that a watermelon couldn’t be so hard. Even when Mike came into the kitchen and jumped back, startled, yelling, “Good GOD! What kind of a monster IS that??!” I still looked at my fledgling watermelon carving with the undeserved bias of a mother’s love. It may not be the most quacktacular watermelon duck every carved (I imagine that there are actually flocks of carved watermelon ducks out there somewhere, despite dubious support for this theory), but it was relatively painless, fast, and incredibly fun.
I can only assume that at this point you’re thinking, “Oh PLEASE! PLEASE show me how to carve a Watermelon Duck! I have never wanted anything in the world like I have wanted that. The urge to create, ooh, my fingers are TREMBLING with FRUITY ANTICIPATION!” I will make you wait no longer.
What You Need:
- a watermelon
- a paring knife
What You Don’t Need But It Really Helps:
- parchment paper
- wax crayon or pastel
- melon baller
- ice cream scoop
- awl or fork with sharp, pointy tines
- wire cutters
- 2 peppercorns
Start with your watermelon. Slice a thin strip off the bottom using a sharp knife. This will let the watermelon rest on a flat surface so it won’t wiggle around while you’re carving.
If you have parchment paper, set the watermelon on top (cut side down) and draw a circle or oval around the fruit as wide as the circumference.
Cut out the circle and draw the silhouette of a duck with it’s wings up, using a wax crayon or pastel. Basically, you want the shape to start out flat on one side, arc up and come down and slightly inwards like a raised wing, and then point up in a twee little tail.
Cut out the outline and tape it to the watermelon to use as a guide. The pointy tail should arc up toward the stem end. Use the wax crayon again to trace around the shape on both sides of the watermelon. When you move to the opposite side of the melon, flip the tracing paper over as well so that you are creating a mirror image on both sides.
Using a short, sharp and sturdy little paring knife, carefully cut through the watermelon and along the lines that you just traced. After doing an initial cut, go back over the line again from one end to the other, moving the knife in as deeply as possible.
The back of the watermelon should look like it has a little fishtail on it. Cut through the tail so that you have a pointy infinity sign, effectively separating off the bottom of the carving into 2 discrete pieces. The first piece is always the hardest, but poke it in, stick your knife in and wiggle it around a little bit, prod and push until the chunk ‘snaps’ and you can pry it out. Repeat with the other side.
After the first two pieces are out, it will be easier to grip the top of the carving firmly and force it off with a good yank. You may have to use a bit of elbow grease, and if the center sticks then use use the paring knife to continue cutting away at it a bit to loosen it up.
Scoop the watermelon flesh out using a melon baller to make perfect little orbs. If you have a thin and sharp old fashioned metal ice cream scoop on hand, they’re great to make circles in different sizes. Reserve the balls in a large bowl as these will be your ‘eggs’.
Continue scooping out the watermelon and scrape away any pink that remains, especially on the cut out as this will be used for the milky white neck of your duck. Set the scraps and scrapings aside in a separate bowl which you could discard, if you’re a cruel and indecent human being, or you could use later to make delicious cocktails.
When the watermelon is hollowed out, carve a few notches out of the wing tips to make them somewhat more feathery looking.
Slice the cap which you removed earlier into a long, slender tapered piece that is 1″ wide at the narrowest and bows outward to about 4″ at the base. Set this aside to be the neck.
Cut two pointy beaked ‘faces’ that are mirror images of one another (roughly) and use an awl or the sharp tip of your knife to gouge out a small hole in each for the eye. Cut away some but not all of the pith from the beak side to thin it out as you approach the point.
Lay the neck down with the pity side curving upwards. Using four toothpicks, attach the head pieces to either side of the slim end of the neck. Using a small piece of toothpick, draw the beak closer together so that it resembles a point.
A few troubleshooting tips for toothpicks;
- Sturdy round toothpicks will hold better than thin and flat slat like picks
- Cut the toothpicks into smaller sections (halves or thirds) using wire cutters before you begin
- Stick the toothpicks on the ‘insides’ where they won’t be seen. For example, stick toothpicks into the side of the neck and then ease the inside of the face piece against it
- Wire cutters are great to snip and remove any external toothpick bits that are poking through
Use the paring knife to remove some of the pith at the neck end of the body piece and thin it out slightly. Angle the neck inside the body and trip it shorter if it is too long or looks awkward (as if everything on this duck doesn’t look a bit awkward).
Affix the neck to the inside of the body using toothpicks and trim off any tips that stick out. Be generous with the toothpicks to make sure that the neck is secure.
Finally, use the awl or the tines of a sharp fork to scrape a few feather marks onto the wings and pop a peppercorn in each eye. Tie a little ribbon around your Watermelon Duck, fill it up with the watermelon ‘eggs’ (placing any misshapen ones at the bottom), and delight your family and friends with a mallard made of fruit.
Please do not forget to name your Watermelon Duck, or her feelings will be hurt. Let me introduce you to Dandy Professor Quacky O’Mallard. Her favorite color is lavender and she likes to watch horse races on television, except when it is raining. She doesn’t go out in the rain, mind you, because she would hate for her ribbon to get wet.
Don’t judge Dandy Professor. She’s watching you, and she knows exactly what you said behind her back at that baby shower last week.
What a coy little flirt she is, our watermelon duck, shaking her booty like that. And in front of the eggs, no less!
At the end of the day, carving a watermelon is just about having fun, being creative, and exploring all the different shapes that you can make out of this juicy, sweet fruit. If you’re looking for inspiration, there are some brilliant ideas here, but feel free to play and have fun. At the end of the day, how bad could it be? Even a Frankenduck is still full of delicious pink melon, and that’s reward enough for me.