On a hot summer day of my childhood, there was nothing like an ice-cold watermelon to pick up your spirits.
If nothing else, it cooled you down a notch and entertained you long enough to make scary teeth out of the rind.
I have since found the pleasure of making colorful summer salads with watermelon, freezing them into sorbets and creating a salsa to go with Mexican food. Watermelons are so plentiful in our hot climate that you could put them on the menu in dozens of ways. I must admit, however, that digging into a cold one and chowing down in the backyard is my preference.
The first signs of local watermelons come in June, and they continue growing here through September. Our varieties have happy names. Jubilee and Jubilation are the long striped ones, Dixie Lee and Louisiana Sweet are round and light green stripe, and the Sugar Baby is the icebox type. Icebox? That means, in ‘50s terminology, small enough to get into your ice box, now known as a refrigerator.
What makes a watermelon sweet? Full ripeness is the best answer I know and that means knowing how to pick them. These are the rules:
- Look for a pale yellowish spot, also called the field spot, on which the watermelon sat in the field. The fact that the spot lost its color means that the melon stayed in the field long enough to ripen fully.
- Pick up several watermelons and choose one that is heavy for its size. The more water that’s in it, the heavier it will be and the riper it is.
- Choosing a watermelon with no stem is a good idea because when the stem falls off, it means the melon stayed in the field long enough to get ripe.
- It is pointless to knock on a watermelon. The experts say the sound of knocking tells you nothing.
- The best look for a ripe watermelon is dark green and dull, not shiny.
- Don’t be tempted to buy a cut watermelon in order to see how red it is. Once cut, it begins to dry, and juice is what it’s all about.
Sweet and Spicy Watermelon-Mango Salsa
- 4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- 1 mango, seeded and cut into about ¼-inch pieces
- 6 basil leaves, julienned
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
1. Mix all ingredients together in a serving bowl. Serve with chips or tacos or as a side to grilled chicken or fish. Makes 6 cups.
A bowl of different melons will add color to your meal. Cantaloupes are in season now, and honey dews arrive late summer. Cut into cubes, along with watermelon, and serve as salad or dessert. Or, slice onto a decorative platter. Pretty, healthful and delicious!
- 1 round seedless watermelon
- ½ cup sugar
- Juice of 1 lime
- 8 to 10 mint leaves, minced
1. Slice watermelon into about six pieces and, using a sharp knife, remove and discard the rind. Cut into small pieces, roughly 1-inch cubes. Measure as you cut, placing about 15 cups of watermelon into a plastic storage container and freeze for several hours. You may have leftover watermelon, depending on size. Reserve for other use.
2. In a small pot, mix and heat sugar and lime juice, stirring, until sugar is melted. Refrigerate until cold.
3. When watermelon is frozen, place in a food processor and puree. Mix in sugar-lime juice mixture and mint.
4. Place in an ice cream freezer and follow manufacturer’s directions. This will only take 10 or 15 minutes since watermelon has been previously frozen. Serve as soon as frozen in decorative glasses such as martini glasses. Makes 6 servings.