Just as I have convinced myself that it must be the hottest summer on record, Facebook reminds me of comments made in previous years about the heat and humidity in Nashville. But still, there’s no disputing that our summer weather has us seeking the shelter of shade and air conditioning – sometimes at the expense of having fun and making memories. Many of my summertime memories involve cooling off under the lawn sprinkler, barefoot games of kick-the-can with neighborhood kids, and devouring enormous slices of watermelon at the end of a summer afternoon.
Today’s recommendations involve that sweet, delicious summertime treat – watermelon! I’m not talking about those softball-sized “personal melons” now available at your local grocery. I’m talking about the almost-too-big-to-carry commitment of a full-sized watermelon. The kind that certainly won’t fit in your main refrigerator and may not fit into your beer fridge.
My dad was the consummate watermelon host. At Peabody College socials and neighborhood gatherings, he’d break out his machete and slice up a melon so expertly that women would swoon, and kids would shriek with delight. From him, we learned the art of spitting seeds and rinsing our sticky hands and faces with the garden hose. And so I channel his memory as I write this Summer Guide to Watermelon.
Step One – Selecting a Melon
Why not make an outing of it – visiting a local farm stand or even the Nashville Farmers Market – where you can pick up (figure of speech) a watermelon for less than $10? Selecting a melon is not always easy to do – the first melon I purchased this year looked lovely, but was flavorless. According to this YouTube video, you can get a perfect melon by following these steps:
- Select a heavy melon. The weight of the melon indicates the fruit’s ripeness and water content. So, select a melon that seems heavy for its size.
- Check the field spot on the bottom of the melon. This is the spot where the melon rested in the field. A white field spot indicates the melon was picked before it was ripe. Look for a creamy or yellow field spot.
- Look for a dark green melon. A perfectly ripe melon will be dark and not shiny.
- Avoid melons with stems. A melon that was picked when ripe separates easily from its stem, so a stem usually indicates the fruit was picked too soon.
- Knocking on a melon isn’t usually a very good predictor of the melon’s quality – but you might try holding the melon like a baby and giving it a thwap – if the vibration from your knock can be felt by the arm on the underside of the melon, that’s a good sign.
- If you are buying a melon that is precut, look for dark red flesh without white streaks. If the watermelon is a seeded variety, the seeds should be dark brown or black. Also, avoid buying watermelon if the flesh looks mealy or has separated from the seeds.
Step Two – To Chill or Not To Chill?
I’ve been told – and I think it’s true – that a watermelon tastes best at room temperature. However, a chilled watermelon is such a summer delight that I’m willing to sacrifice a little flavor for the sake of refreshment. If you find room in your refrigerator, chill your melon (intact, if possible) for a few hours before serving. If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, try filling a large container – like a 5-gallon bucket or galvanized steel washtub – with ice water and let your watermelon chill in it’s icy bath for a while. (This second method is faster and has the added benefit of washing the outside of your melon.)
Step Three – How to Cut a Watermelon
- Using a large serrated knife (or a sharp machete if you have one!), cut the melon in half. I prefer the stem-to-stern slice, but cutting around the middle is also okay, especially if your melon is roundish in shape.
- Slice each half into half again – making a wedge.
- Slice horizontally across each wedge, making service-sized slices. I prefer my slices on the thick side, around 1 ½ inches. The end slices will need to be cut bigger, due to the rounded rind. These slices are most easily eaten with a fork.
- If you like, sprinkle the slice with a little salt.
If you have a lot of people to serve at an informal event, leave the rind on so that people can eat the watermelon with their hands. But if you have leftovers, here are some suggestions for using up your watermelon!
Watermelon, Mint & Feta Salad
This recipe is so easy that all the ingredients are in the title! Cut up some watermelon into bite-sized chunks, toss it with shredded mint leaves and crumbled feta cheese. Boom!
Watermelon Gin Punch
This punch takes a bit of effort but is delicious and beautiful. The recipe calls for gin, but I think vodka would work well, and it would even taste nice without any alcohol at all (add some citrus soda or ginger ale instead). Because it tends to separate when stored, it’s best enjoyed fresh.
1 quart fresh watermelon juice*
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup simple syrup
1 cup club soda
2 cups gin
*To make fresh watermelon juice, put chunks of watermelon into a blender and liquify. Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove pulp and seed residue.
To make the punch, first muddle several sprigs of mint in the bottom of a large pitcher, then add the other ingredients and stir. Pour over ice and garnish with more fresh mint.
Dad’s Watermelon Pickles
This is not something you see every day, is it? If I loved sweet pickles, I probably would play around with the recipe, perhaps adding allspice or other flavors. But I find these are more interesting than delicious. The following is my dad’s recipe, from our family cookbook.
2 lb. watermelon rind, trimmed of dark green and pink parts, and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ lemon, thinly sliced
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 broken cinnamon stick
10-12 whole cloves
Combine the ingredients for brine and simmer 10 minutes. Add watermelon rind and lemon; simmer until rind is clear. Seal boiling hot in hot, sterilized jars filled to ½ inch from top. Makes 2 pints.
I hope you’ll make some new memories by sharing a watermelon with friends, family, co-workers or neighbors this summer!