|"Der Baschtan [Melon
Knauer, Karl. “Der Baschtan [Melon
Field]." Bessarabischer Heimatkalender, 1955, 88-89.
This translation from the original German-language
text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog,
Could there be any kind of fruit or vegetable in
Germany that can come even close to equaling the goodness
of the water melon (”arbuse” [a work adapted
from Russian])? I personally am not familiar with
any. People in southeastern Europe, in the Balkans
and in the Orient, who live more simply in nutritional
terms than the German people, would find it difficult
to imagine life without watermelons. A plain piece
of bread and a melon were enough to still both hunger
and thirst, and no one ever tired of this fruit. Rich
in sugar as it is, it provides even the poorest household
with a very inexpensive syrup and, pickled for the
winter, it is, well, just the finest side dish there
is. The “arbuse” is for the Orientals
what the potato is for the Germans.
Needing little moisture, the “arbuse”
makes a lot of demands on the sun and the soil. Richly
fertilized soil encourages rotting of the roots and
the fruit itself. Therefore, sandy black soil is its
genuine element to thrive in. Researchers of oriental
languages might give us some insight into the origin
of the term "baschtan," our own understanding
is that the word "baschtan" is the place
where [water] melons and cantaloupes grow. The “arbuse”
has been around for many centuries. Consider that
in 4 Moses 1, 5 we read that the hungry Jewish people
were longing for the onions and melons of Egypt. In
the desert there is likely no other fruit that can
take the place of the water melon. It actually contains
a remarkable percentage of water, which protects the
wayfarer from dying of thirst.
We now come to life with the “baschtan”
in a German village, where even the poorest of families
was not without two or three acres of “baschtan”.
Every spring in Sarata, for example, the community
set aside 20 to 30 “hectares” [ about
50 to 75 acres] of the community grazing land for
use as a “baschtan”. Depending on the
number of people, each family was assigned a small
plot three to six “ar” [1 ar is ca.1.2
square yard] in size. It was restricted to planting
“arbuse”, other melons, cucumbers and
pumpkins for cooking. With large, single-share plows
and very fine harrow, the soil was worked down literally
into "flour." Then the land was divided
into single plots, these were distributed to the individual
participants by drawing lots, and they were planted
immediately. According to an old custom, the “baschtan”
had to be planted by the 100th day of the year, i.e.,
April 10. Boundaries between plots were marked by
grooves in the soil, and so-called "broom rice"
was planted in them, which would later form a natural
fence. Four or fives weeks later the “baschtan
“would be hoed for the first time, and three
weeks later for a second time. Once the plants began
the creeping climbing process, they could not be disturbed.
With joyous anticipation the fathers would observe
the growth in the “baschtan”, especially
when the light green, curly leaves of the “arbusen”
[a German plural of the Russian word] covered the
The shell of the water melon, with its beautifully
variegated exterior must be of special interest to
botanists. From the darkest green to the most delicate
light pink, and with symmetrically stretching, sometimes
zig-zagging stripes, they lay there on the ground,
one right next to the other. Among the dozens of melon
sorts, each had its unique form and even its own seed
color - in short, it was a miracle plant amidst the
monotony of the steppes.
Around the beginning of July, the onset of the hottest
part of the year, the time had come to harvest the
first “arbusen”. It was a very joyous
occasion when the first ripe “arbuse”
landed on the table, blood-red and citrus-yellow as
it was split by the knife and provided its pleasant
refreshment. It is hard to believe that a “baschtan”
of three to five ”ar” could actually yield
80 to 100 hundred-weights of these fine-tasting fruits.
Although a “baschtan” guard would be employed,
it was less for prevention theft than for chasing
away certain enemies of the fruit, particularly the
What a joy it was for us children when, on a Saturday
afternoon or Sunday forenoon, father readied the long
wagon so that we could load it up out at the garden.
Loaded down heavily and swaying under the large load,
the wagon then proceeded step by step toward the house.
People and animals refreshed themselves with the melons.
In the oppressive heat, the dust of the steppes, and
with our poor-quality drinking water, this was a true
refreshment for the residents of the steppes.
Water melons were so inexpensive that even the poorest
could afford them. Moreover, they were such pure a
food that even the very ill could eat them without
problems. Medical body cleansing was not needed, either,
because the “arbuse” did this job the
best. So when in the mornings, mothers aired out the
straw mattresses and other bedding, it was not always
due to lack of fresh air in the house -- the “arbusen”
had done their job among the children during the night.
Our appreciation is extended
to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.