Summer is officially here, and the other day, I cut into my first watermelon of the season. I totally love watermelon. It’s good for you too. You will most definitely find it on my table now and again. Watermelon was different when I was a kid though. And although some will argue that the melons aren’t nearly as good as they used to be, that is not what I am talking about. I don’t mean that the watermelon itself was different, I mean the culture surrounding its consumption was different, very different, most especially in the South, among country folks.
You didn’t just go to the store, buy a watermelon, cut it up and put it in a bowl on the table for dinner. Cutting a watermelon was a social event that seldom involved a bowl in the middle of a dinner table.
We’d all be sitting around, and say my Aunt Billie Sue, who lived down the hill from us, would say, “I got a watermelon and I’m thinking about cutting it.” Our eyes would light up and we’d gather around, listening for the details to make sure we didn’t miss a bite. She’d think a minute and say, “Well, I was thinking about cutting it around 3:00,” or maybe on “Sunday afternoon,” or something like that. “Do y’all think you can be there?”
As if there was a doubt.
We’d be looking at the clock all day and by 3:00, or whatever the designated time, we’d be there waiting. She’d have the biggest watermelon you have ever laid eyes on sitting out on the back porch. She’d have a stack of old newspapers to contain the looming mess, and she’d have a nice big knife that could handle a melon, picked out and ready to do the cutting.
Now, when you go to a watermelon cutting, you don’t arrive to see a melon already cut up and laid out on nice trays. That is not what a watermelon cutting is about. Everybody gathers around the watermelon and the hostess for the cutting of the melon. She takes the knife, carefully plunging it into the center of the watermelon, and then cuts it in a straight line down the middle to both ends.
After that, she takes hold of the two sides and carefully pries the watermelon open. At this point, all eyes are on the melon. Will it be a good one, red, juicy and sweet, or maybe not quite red yet, on the pink side, not quite as sweet? Whether it was really red or on the pink side with a ways to go, none of that means that a single bite would be wasted.
It could be that is why I don’t put a whole lot of stock in folks saying that watermelons aren’t what they used to be. As long as I can remember, there has always been an element of a gamble when it comes to a watermelon.
So, with all eyes on the melon, we would wait until the instant when Aunt Billie pulled the watermelon apart so we could see the inside.
There would be ooh’s and ah’s if it was a nice red one. Those were the absolute sweetest of all, the redder they are, the sweeter they will be. There would be some very audible moans if it was still on the pink side. It would not be quite as good but it would still be worth eating and either way, as soon as we saw what kind of eating we were in for, we attempted to line up politely for our slice. More like falling over each other to see who got the first one.
All the cousins would turn up for a watermelon cutting. Aunt Billie would look around and count how many people were there and she’d start measuring and slicing off chunks. Then we’d sit on the side of the porch and eat that watermelon right out of our hands. She’d always hand us a piece of newspaper to encourage us to not make quite such a mess, but I am not sure how successful that was.
We’d eat watermelon until we couldn’t hold another bite and then the seed spitting would begin. Being real, I never was the best spitter in the group, but some folks could shoot those seeds quite a distance.
Those were some good times. And it is not like watermelon doesn’t deserve a place on the dinner table. It is really quite nutritious, but eating a serving of fruit with your meal because it is good for you is not quite the same as sitting on the side of the porch with watermelon juice all down your shirt while you nosh on that glorious red melon and top it all with a seed spitting contest for dessert.
Do Not Swallow The Watermelon Seeds
And don’t forget the ever-present admonition not to swallow a watermelon seed. You do know what happens when you swallow a watermelon seed? I saw a woman the other day who very clearly did not get the memo about making sure she spit all her watermelon seeds out. Would somebody please tell these folks not to swallow the seeds.
Spiking a Watermelon
My love for a good watermelon did not diminish when I hit college. Not one bit, this is when you learn about plugs and spiking melons. Although I do admit, it always sounded fun and quite appealing, and we did indeed try it a time or two, I prefer my watermelon plain and unadulterated, no salt either. But if you really would like to spike a watermelon, here is a link with the directions for spiking a melon.
Watermelon Recipe Favorites from the Blogging Circuit
Now an ice cold watermelon is as down home good eating as you can get. But you can also do all kinds of things with a good watermelon. After I grew up and moved “to town, ” it delighted me beyond moral reason to go to a nice soiree and find watermelon laid out in slices or balls in the most elegant and auspicious of surroundings. It does my heart good every single time I see it, and once I got to thinking about it, I wasn’t going to be done with this blog post until I had a few good watermelon recipes to ponder. So I went to some of my blogging cohorts and ask if anybody had any good watermelon recipes to share. Did they ever.
Fresh on the 4th: Patriotic Watermelon Fruit Salad — Speaking of a fancy spread that delightfully includes watermelon, we will start with this one from from debutante blogger, Stephanie Ziajka, blogging a Diary of a Debutante. Southern women of all ages are perpetually intrigued with the debutante thing and her take on style is surely a pleasure to read. Watermelon and blueberries, I just can’t see as how summertime eating could get much finer than that.
Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad — This one is on the savory side: sweet, sour and tart all rolled together. I love a salad that mixes fruit and cheese. This recipe is from Valeria Mitchell. Her blog is Mama Likes To Cook, and does she ever. Valeria covers recipes and foodie adventures.
Watermelon, Mint, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Salad — This one doesn’t have a blog post. But my writer and poet friend, Terri French, understands how I cook and when I mentioned the blog post and watermelon recipes, she said something along the lines of try this. Mix those ingredients together and enjoy. I do believe she is onto a good one. Terri is best-known for her haiku poetry. She is also interested in local history and recently released a new book, Huntsville Textile Mills & Villages: Linthead Legacy (Landmarks).
Cold and Refreshing Watermelon Treats — by Chrysa at the Thrifty Jinx Blog, which is dedicated to living the good life on a budget. Her recipes definitely live up to the motto. Chrysa has a Watermelon Agua Fresca Float Recipe, a float with sparkling water. She has a recipe for Watermelon Kiwi Pops, which the kiddos will surely love, and a yummy recipe for Easy Watermelon Sorbet.
Watermelon Mojita — by Swati and Tushar, both PhD level food engineers, specializing in healthy eating, at the Watch What You Eat Blog. This recipe goes well with or without alcohol. Although y’all do know my eyes light up at the thought of a little libation, more often than not, I take mine without the alcohol. Healthy eating and all that. Either way, this drink recipe surely does sound yummy, definitely worth a try.
Frozen Watermelon Treats – by Molly at Cooling with Molly, in the Powerful Fusion Kitchen. Her foodie adventures span the globe. She has Ginger Beer Granita, which is an Italian shaved ice type recipe for grownups and Watermelon – Mint – Chia Popsicles for the kids
Watermelon Pizza Recipe with Cream Cheese Icing (Sugar-free, Low Carb, Gluten-free) — by Maya at Wholesome Yum, sounds and looks amazing. This recipe uses a sugar-free icing recipe so those on a sugar restricted diet can have a nice dessert as well. The watermelon pizza looks so elegant, it could take a place among the most elegant spreads.
Picking a Good Watermelon
My granddaddy, “Pa Bill” Pickett, taught me how to pick out a good watermelon when I was knee-high to that proverbial grasshopper. And despite the fact that there is always an element of a gamble when you get a watermelon, you can cut those odds immensely if you know what you are doing. Pa Bill was a melon thumper. He raised his own melons and he’d be out in the field going from melon to melon, thumping until he found one that was just right. And I’d be tagging right along behind him, listening, and thumping too.
The trick is to listen for a hollow sound. You knock on the melon like you are knocking on a door, not too hard, just a little knock, and you want to listen to that knock. The best watermelons have a hollow sound to them. If you are at the store or a farmers’ market and they have a load of melons, what you want to do is thump on a few to see how they sound. Get used to the feel and the sound of the knock. The best ones in the group will be the ones that have a hollow sound to them. If you’ve never thumped melons before, it is going to take a little practice. Any time you get a chance, do a little watermelon thumping, you’ll get the hang of it.
When you find one that sounds good and hollow, that is going to be the best bet of the group. Sometimes we all miss though, even Pa Bill would pick a dud every now and then, and he had been thumping them all his life. But anyway, give it your best hollow knocking shot, take the hollowest sounding one you can find home, put it in the refrigerator until it gets ice cold, tell all the kiddos to come quick and cut into that thing. If it is not as red as you would have liked, the leftovers will work just fine in a recipe, and it is still an excellent opportunity to teach the kids how to spit watermelon seeds!
Until next time, happy summer!
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The images are from Pixabay, stock photo service.