Is it possible to recapture the blissful summertime of childhood? As adults, perhaps we can’t relive the freedom of those long, leisurely days, but we can still enjoy the familiar flavor of watermelon and experience the very essence of long ago afternoons. Whether plucked from the garden or carried home from the market, nothing seems quite so right on a sweltering day as a simple slice of fresh watermelon.
When I was growing up, watermelon was watermelon–the typical, oblong, green melon with deep red, juicy flesh. These days, home gardens and the marketplace burst with watermelons of every variety.
As with most produce, you’ll likely find the best melons in your own backyard (perhaps even literally). Seeking growers in your own community not only promises the freshest watermelons but supports local, small, or family-owned farms.
Good for you, too
Watermelon’s so much more than a refreshing picnic treat. It’s a low-calorie, nonfat, cholesterol-free snack packed with energy-boosting, health-promoting nutrients and dietary fiber. In addition to vitamins A and C, a two-cup serving of watermelon provides only about eighty calories and is a rich source of potassium, iron, and especially lycopene, a red pigment belonging to a large class of health-protective plant compounds called carotenoids, making it a natural functional food that’s recently earned the American Heart Association’s official approval.
In fact, European researchers have demonstrated a statistically significant association between high dietary lycopene and a reduced risk of heart disease. Harvard researchers also demonstrated that lycopene protects men against the risk of developing prostate cancer. Other studies indicate that lycopene may also protect against gastrointestinal tract, lung, breast, and cervical cancers.
Beat the heat
Because watermelon consists of up to 92 percent water, it makes sense that watermelon is the quintessential choice for a hot summer day. The high water content makes preparing refreshing snacks a matter of pure simplicity.
Surprise guests with a cool pitcher of watermelon juice by simply puréeing six pounds of seedless watermelon flesh. Press the purée through a fine-meshed sieve and discard the solids. Serve it plain or stir in one-quarter cup of freshly squeezed lime juice and one to two teaspoons of extra-fine sugar. For children (or to relive your own summertime memories), make some refreshing watermelon popsicles. Remove the rind from a large watermelon and cut the flesh into one-half-inch-thick slices. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Insert wooden sticks into the shapes and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze until the watermelon is firm, about ninety minutes to two hours. Serve immediately or store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to one week.
A world of watermelons
While it’s difficult to trace the history of watermelon, the fruit’s origin is thought to be the Kalahari Desert of Africa, though watermelons were also depicted in early Egyptian hieroglyphics. Over time, watermelons found their way to other countries, traveling by merchant ships through the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, watermelon reached China, which has become the world’s largest producer of the popular fruit. It’s believed that watermelon found its home in the United States after arriving with African slaves. Now, the United States ranks fourth in worldwide watermelon production.
Sugar Baby, an open-pollinated watermelon that has long been the standard for cylindrical, medium-size icebox varieties, is commonly found in roadside stands, organic markets, traditional grocery stores–and picnics! The most popular heirloom watermelon variety in home gardens, memorable for its beautiful yellow “constellation” on a deep green rind, is Moon and Stars. Its flavor is traditionally melon-luscious, as well, and the hefty fruits can weigh up to forty pounds. Look for fruits or seeds that are certified organic.
Selecting the perfect watermelon
1. Pick up the watermelon and make sure it’s firm, symmetrical, and free of bruises, cuts, and dents.
2. Weigh it in your hands; it should feel heavy for its size because a good watermelon consists of about 92 percent water.
3. Make sure it has a creamy, yellowish spot on the bottom. This means it ripened naturally on the ground.
Serve this delectably light, summer fruit salad for brunch or an afternoon luncheon.
The cantaloupe and honeydew lend a naturally creamy texture to this refreshing blend of melons and citrus. Adjust the citrus juice quantities for either a sweeter or more tart drink.
Try this delicious alternative to traditional barbecue sauce this summer season.